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Tuesday 22 May 2018

New laws to monitor criminal messaging risk pushing out technology and social media firms

New data interception laws raise fears that Facebook and Google may invest elsewhere

WARNING LETTER: IDA head of technology Leo Clancy
WARNING LETTER: IDA head of technology Leo Clancy
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

The Government has been warned that new laws to monitor criminal messaging risk making the country less attractive to technology firms and social media organisations.

A letter from IDA Ireland to senior staff in the Department of Justice cautions that the country risks becoming isolated if it introduces stringent laws surrounding access to data. Companies such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft have already appealed to the Government to modernise these interception laws.

Their concerns surround the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages Bill which would allow gardai to intercept the text messages, emails and social media messages of criminal suspects.

Officials in the Department of Justice have met representatives from some of the world's major providers of such messaging services to discuss the legislative framework of intercepting data.

In a letter seen by the Sunday Independent, IDA Ireland wrote to Peter Mullan, assistant secretary in the Department of Justice, earlier this year advising him of the impact that amendments to the Bill could have on foreign investment.

IDA head of technology Leo Clancy said it was important Ireland considered what other countries were doing with similar legislation.

"IDA is concerned about any unintended consequences of the new legislation that could have a negative impact on Ireland as a location for investment which provides a best in class ecosystem for data," said Mr Clancy.

"This is a space which is changing rapidly and where it can be hard to anticipate difficulties which may arise between jurisdictions. IDA believes that the legislation should have a clear regard to how other countries are approaching interception and to the practicalities for companies in operating any interception scheme in Ireland and between jurisdictions."

Mr Clancy said that while IDA supported the objectives of the Bill and securing the State, careful consideration was needed for the country to retain and attract key business.

Facebook and Google are two of the key players that would be affected by the legislation. Between them they provide almost 10,000 jobs in Dublin.

"In summary, IDA believes that the upcoming legislation needs to be carefully crafted to avoid introducing any negatives for Ireland as a location from which to operate regional or global business. Moving in line with the majority of our peer locations to avoid becoming isolated is important in such policy matters given our increasingly globalised business world," Mr Clancy added.

He said it was important to avoid putting such companies in uncertain positions and to minimise the legal challenges they may face.

Mr Mullan was part of a Department of Justice delegation that met representatives of Facebook in July to discuss the Bill. Meeting notes seen by the Sunday Independent show that they discussed international examples of similar laws before department officials indicated further drafting work was required before the Bill could be published.

This meeting came after the department met with the American Chamber of Commerce and representatives from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Facebook. Notes from this meeting show the companies flagged that judicial authorisation would add transparency and oversight before stressing a crucial need to modernise Ireland's technology interception laws.

Ireland's Data Protection Commissioner has also called for the laws to be updated. Helen Dixon said reforms were necessary to ensure that the rights of individuals were protected through independent oversight of how these far-reaching surveillance and interception powers are deployed. The Data Protection Commissioner has called for "a thorough modernisation" of legislation to ensure advanced powers for intelligence agencies.

Sunday Independent

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