Last night’s RTE news coverage had a piece highlighting the Irish Government’s decision to extend the current data retention legislation to include details of emails, internet chat messages and internet access.  While the content of emails and chat messages will not be stored, the proposed legislation will force ISPs to record who sent/recieved an email and the date and time it was sent.  Yesterday’s Irish Time’s also had an article on this issue written by Karlin Lillington

Karlin’s piece in yesterday’s Irish Times provides an excellent overview of the impact this proposed legislation could have.  In particular her riposte to the “if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear” argument posted in one of the comments is well worth reading.

Data retention can be an important tool in fighting crime and terrorism.  Keeping the details of who talked/wrote to whom at particular times can be very useful in traffic analysis to build a profile of command and control structures.  But equally important is maintaining the privacy of the individuals that we are trying to protect.  The recent rash of data losses by government departments in the UK, most notably the loss of 25 million records of child benefit recipients, and of misuse of information held in the Irish Department of Family and Social Affairs highlight how fragile this protection can be.

Mistakes can also be made as highlighted by the wrongful arrest of a man in India who ended up with 50 days in jail over police tracing the wrong internet address. 

In our struggle to maintain a free and democratic society we need to ensure that the laws we introduce and the steps we take to protect those freedoms don’t in themselves become tools to be used against us.  We need assurances that appropriate safeguards, controls, accountability and transparency are maintained at all times and that any misuse of the information will be dealt with swiftly and severely.  Unfortunately the proposed legislation is not clear on what these measures, if any, are.

For those who believe the “I’ve got nothing to hide so therefore I need not worry about government plans to increase surveillance”.  A read of the 25 page paper titled “I’ve Got Nothing To Hide And Other Misunderstandings of Privacy” by Professor Daniel Solove from the George Washington University Law School which explores this argument and highlights the flaws in this reply is well worth a read.

According to Privacy International‘s latest report there is already “systemic failure to uphold safeguards” relating to privacy within Ireland.  We need to ensure that in our fight to combat crime and terrorism we do not further undermine those safeguards.

Update 21/1/08 covers Digital Rights Ireland’s response to this issue.  Meanwhile I came across this example of misuse of large Government databases by trusted staff “Corrupt US Customs agent sentenced for data deals“.

About the Author: bhimport

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