The Cabinet has approved a plan for urgent laws allowing gardaí to continue to retain and access data for national security purposes.
The plan to draft legislation to amend the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011 was brought forward by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee to address the impact of a recent judgement at the European Court of Justice.
It ruled in favour of convicted murderer Graham Dwyer in April, who had challenged the State prosecution’s use of mobile phone data during his murder trial, saying that the general and indiscriminate manner in which the State accessed and retained the metadata from Dwyer’s mobile phone breached European Union law.
The proposed new laws cannot be applied retrospectively and will not have any impact on the appeal being taken by Dwyer against his conviction, which could be heard before the end of the year.
Minister McEntee said: “While I do not want to comment on the specifics of cases which are before the courts, I have been clear that I do not want a situation where An Garda Síochána have their hands tied behind their backs.
“Access to telecommunications data has become ever more important for the detection, investigation and prosecution of crime and for safeguarding the security of the State.
“An Garda Síochána do hugely important work to keep us all safe, to investigate criminals and to ensure justice is done.
“They must be fully equipped with strong laws and modern technology to fight crime and keep us safe.”
The Minister said there are occasions “when the interests of public safety, fighting crime and national security must override the absolute right to privacy.”
“There should always be safeguards and protections when it comes to accessing data, but we must not allow the balance to shift too far away from keeping people safe and fighting crime,” she continued.
“I intend to bring a general scheme to Government for approval in the coming weeks, after which I will announce further detail of the intended legislation.”
The proposed legislation is set to provide for amendments to the current rules on general and indiscriminate retention of data from telephony and internet communications for national security purposes.
It will also facilitate “new access provisions” including new types of orders, which will strengthen the capacity of An Garda Síochána to secure and access all forms of electronic data for the purpose of specific criminal investigations or proceedings.
The Minister intends to pass the legislation through the Houses of the Oireachtas by the summer “in light of the urgent need to provide clarity in this area.”
She also intends to bring forward wider reforms in the area of data retention later this year.