State asked Vodafone 4,000 times for phone users' personal details
The scale of the State's efforts to know who we call, text and email has been laid bare in a new report from Ireland's biggest mobile operator.
Vodafone says that Irish authorities applied over 4,000 times to the operator for information as to the location, identity and other details of our phone activity.
The revelation is part of a new initiative by the operator to inform people of the extent to which governments seek access to detailed information about citizens' communications.
Vodafone also revealed that 29 countries tap directly into its network infrastructure to listen to calls and read messages.
However, the operator said it's not allowed to say how many times Irish authorities listened in on our phone calls or read our messages because the Justice Minister warned it not to.
"While local laws do not expressly prohibit disclosure, we asked the (Irish) authorities for guidance and have been informed that we cannot disclose this information," said a spokesman for the company.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice said that its guidance to Vodafone was a request and not a mandate.
"Ireland indicated to Vodafone that publication of such information might compromise national security and hinder the investigation of serious criminal activity."
The spokesman declined to elaborate further on the extent, depth or circumstances in which Irish citizens' calls, emails and text messages are intercepted.
Spokesmen for 3 Ireland, O2 and Meteor parent-company Eircom declined to comment on similar information access given to Irish authorities.
Both the Telecommunications Act 1999 and the Criminal Justice Act 2009 allow for the interception of "communications" from telecoms firms operating in Ireland based on a warrant. This is subject to oversight on appeal by people who wish to know whether they have been subject to such "lawful interception".
Last night, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) said the report highlighted the need for a comprehensive overhaul of Ireland's legal interception powers in order to "render them fit for the internet age".
"This should include the introduction of a robust system of oversight by an independent authority," ICCL director Mark Kelly said.