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The BAI Demands A Big Brother Role Over The Irish Internet

Last week’s proposals by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland that the Government should extend the quango’s powers to include the regulation of online video services, with the suggestion that regulators should be allowed to access and monitor the private communications of individual citizens if required, must surely rank as one of the worse examples of bureaucratic overreach that we have seen on this island in many years. It’s no wonder that the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and other concerned groups have reacted with alarm when an agency of the State is lobbying to police online activities, whether on relatively public platforms like YouTube and Facebook or on confidential platforms like Whatsapp and Snapchat. The BAI makes the latter ambition explicit when it argues that “investigators” from a proposed Online Safety Regulator (OSR) should have the right to examine and penalise the use of:

…both “open” online services (e.g. social media platforms) and “encrypted” online services (e.g. private messaging services).

In other words, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland or some branch of it would be authorised by law to force individuals to make encrypted messages on their phones or computers available for scrutiny by the authorities if concerns were raised about the possibility of libel or other controversial views being expressed in those electronic communications.

Naturally this is a system made for abuse by malcontents and the unscrupulous. Is your sulking ex-boyfriend hampered by a restraining order and finding it difficult to continue his sociopathic hassling of you? No problem! He simply needs to contact the regulator and claim that he is being libelled in Whatsapp messages between his former partner and her family and friends and then – boom! – along comes the investigators to sort things out. You don’t like that Instagram post from a dissatisfied customer offering a poor review of your business? No worries! Simply hit up that online complaint form and the next thing you know your unhappy customer is having her or his account opened up to an investigator, who might demand to see all of that person’s private internet activities just in case they’ve been repeating the same comments on other platforms.

Irish libel laws are some of the strictest in the world and we already have a wealth of rules governing illegal, threatening or defamatory behaviour, regardless of where it may take place. Adding a Big Brother element to these regulations is not about helping anyone or protecting anyone. It is about creating a cold house on the internet for a plurality of opinions and debate, about stifling free expression even if it is made in private messages between people. And it is about making us wary or outright frightened of the devices that we use to communicate with in the modern age.

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5 comments on “The BAI Demands A Big Brother Role Over The Irish Internet

  1. How exactly did Ireland end up with such strict libel laws? We’re they British libel laws (which I understand are similar) that got “grandfathered” into The Republic. I just saw something were a lot of restrictive laws in various countries that The US media blames on “the culture” were actually written by British or French Colonial administration.

    Is The Irish Coucil for Civil Liberties a well respected outfit? A popular one?

    What would be the best strategy to reform some of these systems?

  2. Charlie Morris

    The English Establishment mentality in Ireland’s government. So much for Irish Independence. The economic pain of a collapse of trade between England and Ireland in a post Brexit world, may be just what Ireland needs if it is to find its best feet again.

    • Ireland certainly isn’t the only case of a former British colony that “carried over” old British rules. It hardly makes independence irrelevant!!!!

      Indeed I believe it would be impossible for ANY country to declare itself independent from a larger power and NOT carry over institutions, habits, and laws from the former rulers. Starting absolutely everything from scratch is impossible, and trying has created some truly terrible results in human history. A better question might be what reforms Ireland might need right now, and how best to get them.

      • That’s an interesting point you make Grace and I’d broadly agree. And even British rule and approaches was impacted by pre-existing habits etc prior to their consolidation.

        That said I’d also feel that some distance from Britain as CM suggests is not necessarily a bad thing.

        • Britain may very well be courting national suicide at this point. I don’t say this with any Schadenfreude or “chickens coming to roost” arguments. Just really horrible decision making.

          For Ireland to protect itself is simply rational, for any small country when a larger neighbor is potentially self-destructing!

          I was just reading about how in half of the countries today where homosexuality is literally a crime, the laws are a holdover from British rule.

          When I talk to feminists from Mexico, Central America, and South America one very, very common theme is that most of those countries have a much more old fashioned version of the Napoleonic Code than anything practiced today in Europe.

          Various US states have holdover pre-UK English laws, French, Spanish, Napoleonic and more. This includes actual laws against witchcraft, Spanish inquisition relics in NM, and even Georgia has relics of its early history as Britain’s penal colony-before Australia was. Even the filibuster in The Senate is becoming a large political issue because it’s a Parliamentary relic that’s not in The Constitution.

          England itself has a number of holdovers from The Roman Empire, Vikings, Normans, and even when it was a Catholic country before Henry VIII’s theological Brexit.

          Why should Ireland be held to a more judgmental standard over such things?

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