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Saturday 17 August 2019

Planned data law does not protect journalists: NUJ head

Criticism: Séamus Dooley, Irish secretary of the NUJ. Photo: Tom Burke
Criticism: Séamus Dooley, Irish secretary of the NUJ. Photo: Tom Burke
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The head of the National Union of Journalists has criticised proposed new data retention legislation for failing to give specific protections to reporters.

NUJ Irish secretary Séamus Dooley criticised the omission at a hearing of the Oireachtas Justice Committee.

The new laws have their genesis in a review conducted by former Chief Justice John Murray, who was asked to investigate the issue after it emerged the mobile phone records of two journalists had been accessed by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

Mr Justice Murray subsequently found existing laws should be repealed as they amounted to mass surveillance of the entire population of the State.

He also recommended the data of journalists should not be accessed by any State agency unless the journalist is the subject of a criminal investigation.

However, the general scheme of a new Communications (Data Retention) Bill 2017, published simultaneously with the Murray review last month by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, stated a person's metadata, location and subscription data can be accessed only if the person is found to be involved in a serious offence or is posing a serious threat to the State.

But it does not include specific limits on when the data of journalists can be accessed.

The omission has given rise to concerns about the protection of journalists' sources.

While Mr Justice Murray also recommended applications for accessing data should be made to a High Court judge, the bill makes provision for District Court justices to act as authorising judges.

Mr Dooley told the committee it "beggars belief" some of Mr Justice Murray's recommendations were set aside.

"The NUJ believes that the highest level of protection, under both Irish constitutional and international law, must be afforded to journalists in respect of privacy in their communications," he said.

A spokesman for Mr Flanagan defended the proposed legislation.

"The terms of reference for Mr Justice Murray focussed on journalists only. However, our legislation went further than the Murray report and covers protections for all citizens, of whom journalists are some," he said.

Irish Independent

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