Data retention agreement between Department of Justice and telcos leaked

The Department of Justice and various Irish ISPs / telecommunications providers have been in negotiations for some time now as to how the Data Retention Bill will be applied once passed. The first draft of an agreement between them was leaked in September 2009 – now a second draft of this agreement has been leaked and is available here. Again, it is important to ask why this document is being drawn up in secret. As Karlin Lillington wrote when the first version of this document was leaked:

A secret memorandum of understanding between State agencies and the communications industry on how to implement the as-yet non-existent Government data retention legislation, confirms longstanding concerns about who is managing the data retention agenda and to what end.

With data retention, it appears that the tail is wagging the dog, in blatant disregard for proper democratic legislative process. The agencies that want access to our call and internet data are bypassing the Oireachtas, which at least theoretically, is the body that draws up and implements legislation..

No doubt, the argument will be made – and indeed is, within the body of the 13 page memorandum – that the document exists to help streamline the process by which our data are requested and handed over to various bodies that will now be allowed to look at it. Or as the memorandum states: “to promote efficient and effective standards of co-operation between the State and the Communications Industry.”

But it is not the business of the agencies to arrange any such matters privately with the communications industry, especially in the absence of actual legislation, or any public discussion or input, or any significant Oireachtas debate on a Bill that has only recently been published and not yet debated.

A data retention bill has not been passed by the Oireachtas yet, so this extraordinary “agreement” is based on sweeping assumptions, not articles of law.

More startling is the fact that agencies and industry are making such secretive plans for co-operation at all. It is the job of the Oireachtas and, ultimately, the courts to determine how legislation will be interpreted and implemented, not the Garda Commissioner, the Revenue Commissioners or the Defence Forces by private agreement.