Sunday 23 October 2016

Response to snooping crisis is not adequate

Published 21/01/2016 | 02:30

Nóirín O'Sullivan
Nóirín O'Sullivan

Can it really be that the schedules of our political elite are already so crowded with election commitments that there is no time to settle the snooping crisis?

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Given the proliferation of phones involved, the response from the Government has not been commensurate with the scale of the controversy.

Instead of decisive action and clarity on the issue, we see contradictory and oblique responses.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has insisted there has been no widespread accessing of civilians' phones. Why therefore has she called for a review?

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan has clouded the issue even more. First, there was a mystifying refusal to address the issue, then she agreed to speak to this newspaper. But are we much the wiser? According to the Commissioner: "We are very mindful of journalistic privilege. We are very mindful of the fundamental principle of the freedom of the press. As I say, exceptional consideration and rigorous safeguards are put in place to ensure that under no circumstances are there any breaches of those principles."

The Commissioner's stated concern for the freedom of the press is not consistent with an indifference to the accessing of journalists' phone records. Such action is inimical to freedom of speech and contrary to the possibility of holding authority to account; both of which are surely harmful to the public interest. Again, one must ask: if the Commissioner has such confidence in the status quo, why the need for a review?

Clearly there is disquiet, as well there might be.

The lack of oversight on the ability of the State to snoop on private phones is now a cause of grave public concern.

The notion that a single judge can monitor the thousands of cases reviewed each year is also disquieting.

The Government response to this escalating crisis has been lackadaisical, inconsistent and inadequate. The NUJ and the Council for Civil Liberties have expressed their alarm. Despite this, instead of amending legislation, the Government has inexplicably opted for a review.

The new powers given to GSOC were ill-advised and need to be urgently reversed, not reviewed.

Irish Independent

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