An Idirlíon

Ireland’s Secret Spy Courts

Following on from the revelations that Britain has spent decades monitoring as a matter of routine all telecommunications traffic in and out of Ireland, and with the commercial co-operation of a number of telephone and internet providers, news comes that the centre-right Irish coalition government has now signed into law some of the most secretive surveillance regulations in the European Union. Regulations that will effectively allow foreign police and intelligence services to legally spy on Irish citizens in Ireland. Remarkably this has been done with virtually no democratic debate in Dáil Éireann or with the renewed approval of the legislature. In reality the so-called “statuary instrument” covering the new rules is little more than a government diktat hiding behind the façade of the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Act of 2008. Worryingly there has been hardly a murmur from anyone in the country’s journalistic corps, which just adds to sinister air that hangs over the whole affair. Karlin Lillington in the Irish Times is one of the few to report on what should be a matter for grave public concern and debate:

“Foreign law enforcement agencies will be allowed to tap Irish phone calls and intercept emails under a statutory instrument signed into law by Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald.

Companies that object or refuse to comply with an intercept order could be brought before a private “in camera” court.

The legislation, which took effect on Monday, was signed into law without fanfare on November 26th, the day after documents emerged in a German newspaper indicating the British spy agency General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) had directly tapped undersea communications cables between Ireland and Britain for years.

The Government has refused to comment on the documents – leaked from whistleblower Edward Snowden – which were reported by The Irish Times last Saturday.

Section 541 enacts the third part of the 2008 Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Act – which defines how Ireland will collaborate with other governments in criminal investigations – six years after the rest of the legislation was put in place.

The newly enacted section also allows the Minister for Justice to request tapping in other countries for an Irish-based criminal investigation, and sets out how requests from other countries to Ireland for such interceptions should be handled.

These are separated into requests for technical co-operation, when the assistance of an Irish-based company is needed to set up an interception, and a requirement that the Irish State be notified when a foreign state intends to tap lines but can legally do so without direct Irish assistance.

The provision for the secret courts is exceptionally unusual.

One legal source said the legislation would likely be interpreted to encompass emails as well as phone calls as “telecommunications” data is generally seen to include emails and, potentially, text messages if they pass through provider networks.

It is understood internet companies are concerned about the implications of the Act, especially after revelations about security agency spying on internet data from such firms. Many of the leading multinationals in the internet and social media sector have European headquarters and significant operations in Ireland.”

Secret courts holding secret trials and passing secret judgements? So much for democratic accountability.

In related news, from The Intercept:

“According to documents contained in the archive of material provided to The Intercept by whistleblower Edward Snowden, the NSA has spied on hundreds of companies and organizations internationally, including in countries closely allied to the United States, in an effort to find security weaknesses in cellphone technology that it can exploit for surveillance.

The documents also reveal how the NSA plans to secretly introduce new flaws into communication systems so that they can be tapped into—a controversial tactic that security experts say could be exposing the general population to criminal hackers.

Codenamed AURORAGOLD, the covert operation has monitored the content of messages sent and received by more than 1,200 email accounts associated with major cellphone network operators, intercepting confidential company planning papers that help the NSA hack into phone networks.

One high-profile surveillance target is the GSM Association, an influential U.K.-headquartered trade group that works closely with large U.S.-based firms including Microsoft, Facebook, AT&T, and Cisco, and is currently being funded by the U.S. government to develop privacy-enhancing technologies.

Karsten Nohl, a leading cellphone security expert and cryptographer who was consulted by The Intercept about details contained in the AURORAGOLD documents, said that the broad scope of information swept up in the operation appears aimed at ensuring virtually every cellphone network in the world is NSA accessible.”

[With thanks to @DaDearga]



    1. CBC, I agree. During the worst years of the conflict in the north-east of Ireland all sorts of “special” courts were enacted by various Irish governments, minus juries and normal rules of procedure. Dreadful mockeries of justice. However they were public affairs. There was none of this sinister “star chamber” stuff.

      It’s enough to make one paranoid.

  1. Companies that object or refuse to comply with an intercept order could be brought before a private “in camera” court.
    Of course – you would not want to tell the suspect that he’s being watched. Makes the whole thing kinda pointless.

    1. Well, from experience, I can tell you it does not take much to hack into a phone. Most people leave them wide open out of sheer ignorance. I think all “suspects” can reasonably assume they are watched. Rest assured, it’s mostly to exploit your buying power, not any sordid political views or sexual affairs. Those of us who value their privacy must, like Janis mentioned in an earlier post, encrypt everything with their own hash systems. I am afraid, however, if any of the governments wish, they’ll get through that as well. Much easier now to wind up on that cattle truck to the nearest “re-education” facility.

  2. Oh, and by the way ASF, you should add Ralph Bakshi’s “Wizards” and the 1982 film “Koyaanisqatsi” to your movies list. My apologies, sometimes I think I shouldn’t hit your site after the pub, but before. ; )

    1. The original intent for ASF was just blogging on books, movies, art, technology and whatever caught my attention. I quickly got sidetracked. I must try and shoehorn in more non-political stuff.

      1. BTW are you good with computers and stuff.
        I have a pretty good idea for an app and stuff.
        But I don’t have a clue about them.
        But the idea I have is sound..It could be difficult to execute..I shall run it past you and Janis.Coz he sounds like he might be a computer fiend 🙂

        1. I am probably more of a self-taught amateur, that now supports various non-profit outfits by putting (and holding) together their computer networks. More of a social worker though. Not that great at programming apps. But there are a multitude of app creation software products out there, some of which are actually free. If you Google “app creator,” a multitude of them pop up. If you have a good idea, my advice is to keep it to yourself and put your app together in private (may be even take a class in programming). Lots of folks have made considerable money that way.

      2. You’re doing quite well (no brown-nosing intended). Avatar was a fairly recent movie. I am amazed how much stuff you put out, you are definitely keeping busy.

    2. LOL..You know I never noticed there was Tv, Film reviews.
      I had a peek and the only TV show I am familiar with is Due South.
      I used to like that back in the day.
      Of the films Exclabiur and Flash Gordon are the two that stand out.

  3. Well, with this latest development of CIA methodology of extracting information, I’d much rather have them get it from my phone than by injecting hummus into my posterior.

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