Category Archives: Civil Liberty

The Media, Crime, & Criminal Justice in Ireland

In 2017, in the Republic of Ireland, the relationship between the media, crime, and criminal justice is fundamentally different than what was the case a half century ago. A functioning independent media operating in the public interest and a transparent criminal justice system are notionally the cornerstones of an effective democracy.

Both should have clear demarcations on authority and demonstrable respect, without exception, for civil liberties. Both should respect “a social contract that sets out the expectations, the rights, and the responsibilities of all parts of society – individuals, institutions and government.” (Reference 1), the statute book and the constitution. A society “where Government works in the interest of all” (Reference 2)

The Dark Triad

The relationship between these elements has changed in recent history as a result of the normalisation of sensationalism in the media and an exaggeration by the media of the levels of serious domestic criminal activity.

Both of these phenomena have resulted in an erosion of civil liberties and a skewed public perception of the threat level that serious crime presents domestically. As a result bills have been proposed and laws passed that deliver disproportionate criminal justice powers to the State.

To a large degree the majority of the public are unaware of the potential pitfalls of this kind of legislation and have rather been led into a position of inertia by an irresponsible media.

“Influencing” Public Opinion

Public attitude to crime is substantially informed by the consumption of print, TV, radio and digital media and as “an issue of major public interest it is therefore covered extensively in the media.” (Reference 3)

Media coverage is a major influence on the public perception of crime and the administration of criminal justice.

The media affects public attitudes to different types of crime, to certain sectors of society, to the perception of the levels of criminal activity within society, to the expectation with respect to the burden of proof thats rests with the State in criminal trails, to the checks and balances that exist within the system, to the willingness of the public to surrender civil liberties in the face of alleged threats and “in the tabloid media in particular, it dominates and dictates the news agenda.” (Reference 4)

“The relationship between media presentations and crime is dependent on characteristics of the message and the audience.” (Heath and Gilbert (1996)). Chiricos et al (2000) finds that local and national news are related to fear of crime and have a direct effect on the willingness of constituents to consider a reduction in their personal freedoms in order to allow new legislation that more “effectively” combats the perceived threat.

The “Contract” Between The Media & The Public

The poor quality and reliability of output in certain sections of the media is detrimental to the effective administration of criminal justice and rather “the media should endeavour to ensure that stories of crime accurately reflect the nature and extent of their true occurrence.” (Reference 5)

A by-product of a broken “media-crime-criminal justice” relationship has been the erosion of certain civil liberties. In particular the presumption of innocence, the rules of habeas corpus, the right to a fair trial, the fundamental right to silence and the right to trial by jury in an ordinary Court for non-terrorist offences.

There is a “growing insignificance of the presumption of innocence for accused persons such that its “tangible benefits [appear] little in evidence in our criminal justice system.” (Reference 6)

In conjunction with media scare-mongering that is disproportionate to the threat posed the fallout “has been global in scope – in particular, in the battering taken by international human rights standards and even the Geneva Conventions.” (Reference 7)

The Dublin-Limerick Effect

During the 1990’s, Dublin and Limerick became the focal point for domestic media crime reporting especially amongst the tabloids. Specialised law enforcement units evolved in response to this relatively new type of threat to state security. Due to the changes in the nature of offences being brought before the Courts there was a drive to author new legislation as a unique set of legal challenges began to appear when investigating these offences.

It also became clear that gangs and gang members were proving difficult to tackle and existing legislation made gathering evidence to support trials difficult. The Criminal Justice Act 2006, legislated for during the tenure of Michael McDowell as the Minister for Justice, created a new offence of membership of an organised crime gang, or “criminal organisation”, and made it an offence to assist the activities of an organised crime gang.

Evolving this legislation the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009 provided for the use in criminal trials of material obtained during covert surveillance. The Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill further defined membership of a criminal organisation and made it an offence to direct the activities of one.

There were also a host of newly created scheduled offences contained in the legislation which allowed gang members to be tried in the non-jury Special Criminal Court. In Section 8 of the Bill a declaration was made that the ordinary courts were inadequate and were not in a position to effectively administer justice as there was a pervasive threat of jury tampering and intimidation.

Despite this there was no evidence that the ordinary courts had previously failed repeatedly to justify such a sweeping alteration of the normal rules of habeas corpus, the right to silence (removed by the introduction of “inferences”), the right to trial by jury and the fundamental right of the presumption of innocence.

To support this view that the legislation was ill-conceived and introduced to reduce the workload and evidence required in securing convictions in these cases Central Criminal Court Judge Mr. Justice Paul Carney stated that when gang members were brought before a jury in his court there were no difficulties in securing convictions.

Maintaining Integrity & Accuracy

The interactions between the media and criminal justice should to be governed by a clear understanding of boundaries and acceptable authority. There should also be an attempt to maintain independence from political influence and any vested interest bias.

Restricting reporting to verifiable fact on matters of fundamental importance is paramount. Instead there has been “a surrender to an exaggerated, media-driven perception of the levels of crime or the threat posed by certain types of crime.” (Reference 8)

Mandated commentators – journalists – were historically, to a greater or lesser degree, controlled and restricted according to their professional standards and ethics. The concept of a trusted press was based on the premise that facts formed the basis of reporting.

Developing commentary and drawing conclusions from those facts was to be a task fulfilled by those who possessed subject matter expertise, experience and independence.

Rather we have experienced “hysteria in the media about crime” (Reference 9) which “has caused a moral panic and calls for extreme measures such as zero tolerance.” (Reference 9). This has led to questions as to whether “vested interests have turned a manageable problem into a crisis?” (Reference 10)

The Effect Of Poor Standards

Over time “opinion pieces”, “columnists”, “editorials”, “investigative journalism” and “news anchor monologues” became the means by which competing media outlets in an increasingly crowded market vied with each other for market share where even non-commercial bloggers now vie for the public’s eyeballs.

This is in stark contrast to what was the case previously. There has been an erosion of the boundary between what is delivered as fact and what is offered as opinion. It is often not clear which is which.

Personal opinion, political alignment, individual or organisational prejudice or vested interest factors have increasingly influenced media output and the production of opinion pieces, as fact, is de rigueur.

The combination of these phenomenon has produced an often misinformed public view of crime and criminality and by extension criminal justice.

There have been several seismic shifts that have evolved the relationship between the media, crime, and criminal justice. The catalysts for these shifts are myriad and include complex changes in social norms, a more diverse society as an outcome of membership of the EU and in more recent times immigration, advancements in technology, a lowering of the bar with respect to fact-checking and independence and a number of external influencers that previously did not exercise control – whether direct of indirect – on the operations of sovereign states in Europe such as The European Court of Human Rights and other external bodies which exercise extra-national legislative influence.

The role of the media in society has naturally evolved over the last century. A free and independent media in a democracy was to be catalyst for positive change.

A relatively free press and a notionally independent judiciary emerged in the first quarter of the 20th century. Media became a liberal and in part, socially crusading, part of society during the third quarter of the 20th century.

With the emergence and evolution of digital media in the latter part of the 20th century until the present – the media – became every person who possessed a keyboard and with that journalistic integrity became diluted. So too did media freedom. Media is influenced by vested interests and by extension so too are the public.

The Loss of Self-Imposed Governance

The relationship between the media and court officials, members of the judiciary, law enforcement, law makers or politicians was at one point to a greater or lesser degree governed by what was once self-imposed governance.

Acceptable practice, and adherence to a set professional standards were respected. Sometimes as a result of a moral compass and sometimes as a result of the threat of potential sanction.

By extension the media ability to influence public opinion on social phenomena, such as crime, without necessarily adhering to legislation or citizens rights as enshrined in statute and the constitution has been blurred.

Data Protection, Confidentiality & Due Process

Chinese Walls, acting as an insurmountable barrier to the passage of confidential information, between the media and criminal justice has all but ceased to exist.

The age of the “leak” which is normally a self serving exercise and the “whistleblower” which is normally in the public interest defines to a great extent the current relationship between the media and criminal justice and the reporting and perception of crime.

The recent alleged extreme rise in violent crime nationally and gun violence between organised criminal gangs has been used by the political parties, An Garda Siochana and lobby groups to ridicule legitimate opposition to the illegal practises of the non-jury Special Criminal Court apparatus in particular.

The Media, Like An Garda Siochana, Are Held To Increasingly Low Standards

I reference a recent article in the Independent with the title “ Highly Sophisticated Eastern European Thieves Making A Fortune In Burglaries Targeting Rural Ireland” (Reference 11).

This article is a prime example of poor journalistic standards facilitating the shoddy application of criminal justice and the poor performance of An Garda Siochana.

It offers transparent sensationalism and embellished fact to facilitate the creation of an impression in the public’s mind. The impression that the article creates is an impression that is simply not true and it is published by what is considered to be one of the main news outlets in the Republic of Ireland.

It is a prime example of the phenomenon and a poster-boy for quantity not quality as the driver for news production in 21st Century Ireland.

The article refers to “the international professional burglary gang which has carried out robberies with “military precision” in Munster”. On examination of this statement it appears that the only evidence of organisation and precision was a time limit the burglars generally imposed upon themselves during their robberies which was deduced from the observation that they looked at “their watches at regular intervals”.

The author then describes how the gang weaponised their vehicles by “transforming “cheap” cars into battering rams, capable of smashing through the premises.”. In fact this impressive sounding planning and preparation actually involved the removal of a seat and its replacement with some concrete blocks.

When the man who was convicted of the crimes was being arrested by armed members of An Garda Siochana the journalist states that “a man “accompanying” him was shot in the face”.

The use of quotes around the word “accompanying” gave this reader the impression that the journalist was insinuating that while the man was never arrested or charged with a crime that he was somehow complicit.

The headline of this article is calculated to draw the attention of the reader and suggests that large amounts of burglaries had been carried out and that vast amounts of monies had been generated by the criminals from the proceeds of their crimes.

The far less sensational reality is that over a two year period during three documented robberies that €150,000 of goods were stolen and not a single member of the public was physically harmed.

Reference Index

1 “Ireland’s Social Contract Is Broken And An Alternative Is Now Required: Social Justice Ireland”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/ireland/irelands-social-contract-is-broken-and-an-alternative-is- now-required-social-justice-ireland-786142.html N.p., 2017. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

2 “Ireland’s Social Contract Is Broken And An Alternative Is Now Required: Social Justice Ireland”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/ireland/irelands-social-contract-is-broken-and-an-alternative-is- now-required-social-justice-ireland-786142.html N.p., 2017. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

3 Crime In Ireland (2016) “Crime In Ireland”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.ceifin.com/resources/paper/PaulReynolds_CrimeCorrespondentRTE.pdf. N.p., 2016. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

4 Crime In Ireland (2016) “Crime In Ireland”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.ceifin.com/resources/paper/PaulReynolds_CrimeCorrespondentRTE.pdf. N.p., 2016. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

5 “Fear of Crime in Ireland and its Impact on Quality of Life”. http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Fear%20of%20Crime %20in%20Ireland.pdf/Files/Fear%20of%20Crime%20in%20Ireland.pdf. N.p., 2016. Web 27 Mar. 2017.

6 Hamilton, Dr. C. “The Presumption Of Innocence In Irish Criminal Law: Recent Trends And Possible Explanations”. http://eprints.maynoothuniversity.ie/5997/1/CH-Presumption-Innocence.pdf. N.p., 2011. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

7 McLintock, Michael. “Erosion Of Human Rights Sets Bad Example”. http://www.irishtimes.com/news/erosion-of- human-rights-sets-bad-example-1.1095225 The Irish Times. N.p., 2002. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.

8 Walsh, Professor Dermot. “The Criminal Justice Act, 2006: A Crushing Defeat For Due Process Values?”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.jsijournal.ie/html/Volume%207/2007%5B1%5D_Walsh_Due%20Process%20Values.pdf Judicial Studies Institute Journal. N.p., 2007. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.

9 O’Connell, Dr. Mick. “Crime And Media Hysteria: Tone Down The Headlines | Politico”. [online] Retrieved from: http://politico.ie/archive/crime-and-media-hysteria-tone-down-headlines N.p., 1998. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.

10 Kerrigan, Gene & Shaw, Helen. “Crime Hysteria”. Magill 1985: 7-12. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.

11 Raleigh, David. “‘Highly Sophisticated’ Eastern European Thieves Making A Fortune In Burglaries Targeting Rural Ireland – Independent.Ie”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/courts/highly-sophisticated- eastern-european-thieves-making-a-fortune-in-burglaries-targeting-rural-ireland-35605436.html. Independent.ie., 2017. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

Bibliography

A. Ashworth, “Four Threats to the Presumption of Innocence” (2006) 10 E. & P. 241-279

An Garda Síochana (2015). An Garda Síochana Annual Report . [report] Ireland: An Garda Síochana

C. Hamilton, Whittling the Golden Thread: The Presumption of Innocence in Irish Criminal Law (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2007)

Crime In Ireland (2016) “Crime In Ireland”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.ceifin.com/resources/paper/PaulReynolds_CrimeCorrespondentRTE.pdf. N.p., 2016. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

Department of Justice & Equality. “Publication Of Commission Of Investigation (Certain Matters Relative To The Cavan/Monaghan Division Of An Garda Síochána) Final Report – The Department Of Justice And Equality”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/PR16000100. N.p., 2017. Web. 19 Mar. 2017.

Department of Justice, Equality & Law Reform. “Fear of Crime in Ireland and its Impact on Quality of Life”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Fear%20of%20Crime%20in%20Ireland.pdf/Files/Fear%20of%20Crime %20in%20Ireland.pdf. N.p., 2016. Web 27 Mar. 2017.

Dowler, Kenneth. “Media Consumption And Public Attitudes Toward Crime And Justice- JCJPC,Volume 10, Issue 2”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.albany.edu/scj/jcjpc/vol10is2/dowler.html. N.p., 2017. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

Hamilton, Dr. C. “The Presumption Of Innocence In Irish Criminal Law: Recent Trends And Possible Explanations”. http://eprints.maynoothuniversity.ie/5997/1/CH-Presumption-Innocence.pdf. N.p., 2011. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

H. Kennedy, Just Law: The Changing Face of Justice and Why it Matters to Us All (London: Chatto and Windus, 2004).

Kerrigan, Gene & Shaw, Helen. “Crime Hysteria”. Magill 1985: 7-12. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.

M. O’Halloran, “Ahern rejects claim that Asbo system is a ‘failure’” Irish Times (26 February 2009)

McLintock, Michael (2002). “Erosion Of Human Rights Sets Bad Example”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/erosion-of-human-rights-sets-bad-example-1.1095225 The Irish Times. N.p., 2002. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.

O’Connell, Dr. Mick. “Crime And Media Hysteria: Tone Down The Headlines | Politico”. [online] Retrieved from: http://politico.ie/archive/crime-and-media-hysteria-tone-down-headlines N.p., 1998. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.

Raleigh, David. “‘Highly Sophisticated’ Eastern European Thieves Making A Fortune In Burglaries Targeting Rural Ireland – Independent.Ie”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/courts/highly-sophisticated- eastern-european-thieves-making-a-fortune-in-burglaries-targeting-rural-ireland-35605436.html. Independent.ie., 2017. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

Statute Book, Irish. “Criminal Justice Act 2006”. Irishstatutebook.ie. Office of the Attorney General, 2006. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/2006/act/26/enacted/en/print. 4 Apr. 2017.

Statute Book, Irish. “The Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009”. Irishstatutebook.ie. Office of the Attorney General, 2009. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/2009/act/32/enacted/en/html. 4 Apr. 2017.

Various, “Ireland’s Social Contract Is Broken And An Alternative Is Now Required: Social Justice Ireland”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/ireland/irelands-social-contract-is-broken-and-an- alternative-is-now-required-social-justice-ireland-786142.html N.p., 2017. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

Walsh, Professor Dermot. “The Criminal Justice Act, 2006: A Crushing Defeat For Due Process Values?”. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.jsijournal.ie/html/Volume%207/2007%5B1%5D_Walsh_Due%20Process%20Values.pdf Judicial Studies Institute Journal. N.p., 2007. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.

 

ENDS

Some Members of Congress Are Trying To Invoke “CRA” To Sell Your Data

Congress is trying to strip away your online privacy rights.

Internet service provider knows a lot about you: the webpages you visit, the things you purchase, the people you talk to, and more. Last year, the federal government updated rules to ensure that the companies that act as gatekeepers to the Internet can’t compromise your privacy to make a profit. Those rules are set to go into effect this year.

Now some members of Congress are trying to change that.

Using a little-known tool called a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution, some lawmakers want to not only repeal your privacy protections but also effectively prohibit the FCC from creating similar rules in the future.

That could leave consumers without a federal agency to protect online privacy rights.

You need to let your representatives in Congress know that they can’t put ISPs’ demands ahead of their constituents’ privacy.

Please call your lawmakers today and tell them to oppose the CRA resolution to repeal the FCC’s privacy rules.

Posted on behalf of Electronic Frontier Foundation.

ENDS

Mass Surveillance & The Oxford Comma Analogy

Acknowledgments, Contributions & References: This blog post was written in collaboration with and using contributions from Mr. Dean Webb (find Dean’s profile on PeerLyst). The clever and insightful bits are all Dean, the space fillers and punctuation are mine – except the “Oxford Comma” analogy, which even though it is lifted from @Grammarly on Twitter, is mine – and I like it (a lot). Enjoy.

Who Do We Like, Who Do We Dislike (Today)

Wearable tech is on its way, for surveillance during times when one is away from the vidscreen. But we need this stuff in order to protect against Eurasia. We have always been at war with Eurasia. We will always be at war with Eurasia until 20 January, at noon. Then we will always have been at war with Eastasia. And then we will need all this stuff to protect against Eastasia.

On a more serious note, anonymity has been dead for quite some time. As an example, about 10 years ago Dean Webb was running a web forum for students involved in an academic competition.

He and other teachers had volunteered to be admins for the board. They had a student that began to harass others on the board and post some highly inappropriate material. They banned his account, and he would connect again with another account.

So, Dean took down the IP addresses he’d used for his accounts and did a quick lookup on their ownership. They were at a certain university, so he contacted that university with the information and the times of access and they were able to determine which student was involved.

He was told to stop posting, or face discipline at the university. That got him to stop.

Simple Methods, Complex Implications

The point is, that IP address and timestamp for most people is going to be what gets them in the end. They don’t know what a VPN is from a hole in the ground, let alone what a TOR node is.

At best, most of them will use a browser in anonymous / incognito mode, without realising that cookies are still retained and updated, credit card transactions remain on the record, and ISPs will still retain IP address information with timestamps.

It could be argued that a Layer 2 hijacking of someone else’s line is the way to go anonymously, but that involves a physical alteration of someone’s gear, and that means physical evidence, which is very difficult to erase completely.

Even if anonymity is not completely dead (mostly dead, perhaps?), it is certainly outside the reach of most people because they lack general IT knowledge about the basics of the Internet.

I (Graham) was met with the following comment when I posted a tweet some time before Xmas 2016 about Identity Theft:

“despite the hysteria the theft of most peoples personal information is / will be inconsequential”

The use of the word “inconsequential” by the commenter on my post reminded me of the hilarious Doctor Evil therapy session monologue in the Austin Powers movie when Doctor Evil stated, when asked about his life, that “the details of my life are quite inconsequential”. But 60 seconds of monologue later it was quite clear that they were far from “inconsequential” – it is a matter of perspective as to what is and what is not. That is the problem. And that is the potential worry.

Threat Awareness & Counter Measures

The vast majority of people and their browsing habits are innocuous. The point though that the comment misses and which is the point that Dean makes in his comments about the average John Q. Citizen’s awareness of the threats and the countermeasures available is that the public in general has moved their private communications on to a platform where they do not understand the implications of the ability of externals to eavesdrop or to store and reference data at a future point.

There was a blog post I (Graham) made some time ago about the risk of “profiling” and of “false positives” and the threat that they posed especially with respect to miscarriages of justice. (See “The Sword of Islam” story below)

The point is not whether “the theft of most peoples personal information is / will be inconsequential” or the storage of most peoples browsing history or contacts with other parties is / will be inconsequential or not – the point is that it can be made to look very different to what was actually happening originally.

Like a misquoted partial comment in a newspaper article – actions taken out of context can look very different.

The Oxford Comma Analogy

Recently I posted a tweet about the Oxford comma and it does indirectly inform the point that I am trying to make here:

Excerpt begins from Grammarly

“Unless you’re writing for a particular publication or drafting an essay for school, whether or not you use the Oxford comma is generally up to you. However, omitting it can sometimes cause some strange misunderstandings.

“I love my parents, Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty.”

Without the Oxford comma, the sentence above could be interpreted as stating that you love your parents, and your parents are Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty. Here’s the same sentence with the Oxford comma:

“I love my parents, Lady Gaga, and Humpty Dumpty.”

Those who oppose the Oxford comma argue that rephrasing an already unclear sentence can solve the same problems that using the Oxford comma does. For example:

“I love my parents, Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty.”

could be rewritten as:

“I love Lady Gaga, Humpty Dumpty and my parents.”

Excerpt Ends

The analogy serves to demonstrate one of the main concerns of mass surveillance and mass retention of user data. People are now being profiled and tracked and their behaviours stored and analysed and they do not know why or by whom or for what purpose – they barely understand how to use a browser.

In the wrong hands that potentially makes them cannon fodder. Accuse me of being alarmist and dramatic – fair enough – so did everyone four years ago when I wrote about mass immigration as a weapon, the rise of radical Islam and the dangers of the USA supporting a sectarian Shi’a government in Baghdad, the marginalisation of Sunnis and the Ba’ath party, the randomness of the Arab Spring, the threat of Libya turning into a terrorist haven and so on.

The point is people ignore these developments at their peril but you may as well be talking to a concrete block. You can make all the compelling philosophical points that you like to someone but if they do not have the capacity to understand them then you are wasting your time.

And most of our politicians fall into that category.

Mass Profiling, Mass Surveillance Will Be Inconsequential Until It Isn’t

Dean once met a man named Saifal Islam. He has a devil of a time getting on an airplane because a terror group has the same name – “Sword of Islam”.

He is constantly explaining that the man (him) isn’t the group (them) and that he’s had his name longer than they’ve had theirs. That, yes, the group (them) should be banned from getting on airplanes, but that, no, the man (him) should be allowed on the plane.

Hell of a false positive, and that’s not the only one. Mismatches on felon voting lists, warrants served to the wrong address for no-knock police invasions, people told that they can’t renew driver’s licenses because they’re dead, the list goes on.

Be happy in the knowledge though that your data is apparently “inconsequential” and this privacy debate and the growing intrusion on your personal life is all “hysterical” alarmism.

You can use that statement when you are in the dock defending your very own hysterical “false positive” – no charge.

The next post will be “KarmaWare & Thieves of Thoughts” again in collaboration with Mr. Dean Webb.

ENDS

NSA, GCHQ, The Five Eyes Handing Ireland Cyber-Security Opportunity

It is perfectly achievable to maintain national security and manage the security risks posed domestically by extremists without instituting mass-surveillance programs of ones own citizens and corporate entities.

While this would seem like common sense, the continuing activities of authorities in the United States of America and the United Kingdom would suggest otherwise. But the French have also dipped a toe (or rather an entire leg) in these waters when after the Paris attacks they expanded the 1955 State of Emergency law and legislated for a French mass-surveillance program.

The implications of the Snowden revelations were slow to filter through to ordinary people not working in the security domain. The NSA, the PRISM program and the Patriot Act had produced a culture of widespread surveillance of ordinary citizens’ activities with the assistance of many household names and brands.

Shocking news. Huge outcry. Much apologising and “contextualising” and “perspective” setting occurred. “Expediency” and “imminent threat” were debated and on it went.

The collaborators in the form of telco’s, social networks, media organisations and household brands went into overdrive to backpedal from the disastrous PR outcome their involvement created.

At the same time – encryption and privacy software companies made wild claims about the strength of their products and hundreds of new entrants emerged to fill the public demand for Private Messaging, Email Encryption, Secure Voice, VPN’s, Proxy Spoofers and other privacy tools – a space previously reserved for paranoid board room members, activists and some well informed underworld organisations.

It was supposed to have been a watershed  – the worst excesses of intelligence agencies exposed and now oversight, accountability and proportionate measures would rule the day.

Not so.

The Investigatory Powers Bill

The Investigatory Powers bill will become law in the United Kingdom sometime toward the end of 2016. Inside this legal maze of mass surveillance facilitators the UK alphabet agencies can now:

  • Hack any device, any network or any service;
  • Perform these hacks without restriction and against any target;
  • Store the resulting information indefinitely;
  • Maintain databases of private and confidential information on any citizen of the United Kingdom or person in the United Kingdom;
  • Targets do not have to be “persons of interest” nor do they have to be of any interest whatsoever – at this time;
  • It is an omnipresent power to simply gather information on everyone, at anytime, from anywhere – without any reason and store it – “just in case”;
  • In the commercial context the law allows the state to pressure any company to perform decryption on any data that they store – on request – without reason or right to appeal;
  • This in so many words means that un-compromised commercially available encryption products will no longer exist in the United Kingdom after the Bill becomes Law and no company that is based in the United Kingdom  can make that claim to its users and no company that stores its data in the United Kingdom can assure it’s users that it is safe from hacking or more likely simply being handed over to whatever department of the government of the United Kingdom asks for it;
  • It also requires communications service providers to maintain an ongoing log of all digital services their users connect to for a full year.

It has been quite rightly criticised widely and has already been named the most extreme law ever passed in a democracy — because it cements the legality of mass surveillance.

The English Speaking World Is Giving Ireland the Chance for Privacy Leadership 

This blog has already discussed the The “Five Eyes” (FVEY‍) intel‍ alliance many times. The organisation unifies elements of the national alphabet agencies of the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand and their intel gathering infrastructures.

The AA’s in each member country and the terms of their information exchange mandate is encapsulated in the multilateral‍ agreement called the “UKUSA Agreement”.

This alliance and it’s mass-surveillance capabilities leading to large scale undermining of personal freedoms and civil liberty has really only come into its own with the advent of social networks, big data, the cloud and AI.

Brexit, Trump, US Corporation Tax & Mass Surveillance 

Brexit presents challenges for Ireland but it also presents opportunities. This is one of them.

Trump will shortly be in the White House and he has pledged to end the Irish FDI arrangement of convenience with US corporations. His attitude to surveillance is well known and not categorised by its message of restraint.

Brexit, Trump, The Five Eyes, PRISM, the NSA, GCHQ and now the Investigatory Powers Bill are a frontal assault of epic proportions on the right to privacy of citizens in democracies.

A sort of perfect storm of oppression and suppression tools just standing there waiting – in the wings – for a time when someone will come along and use them for the polar opposite purpose of what they were allegedly created for.

Out of Adversity, Opportunity

The opportunity created by this adversity is not to convince Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Paypal, eBay or the host of other US corporations in Ireland who are either facilitators of the surveillance culture or, like Twitter, engaged in widespread in-house censorship.

But if for once the Irish government showed some spine then the opportunity exists to create an entirely new sector catering to the privacy needs of freedom loving citizens and organisations who dwell in jurisdictions governed by these Stasi like surveillance laws.

And the market size? Well, it’s somewhere around seven billion people and rising.

The attitude of these politicians (Trump, May, Valls & Co.) and their intelligence organisations and the new “laws” – in the form of the revised Patriot Act and the Investigatory Powers Bill – means that’s the vast majority of the worlds English speaking population now live under governments who can – legally – invade their privacy at will – whether at home, at work or at leisure – store the information and use it for any purpose, at any time, at any point in the future – for any reason.

But Ireland has a long way to go to create credibility – the view that Ireland is a Privacy Advocate for the world whose lives are described on social media sites whose data is located in the Irish jurisdiction is a total myth.

I dearly hope that for once Ireland can take the lead – despite its size and influence – and act even if out of self-interest as a stopgap for the complete erosion of civil liberty and privacy in the Western World.

 

END