IRISH people tend to think the idea of a government spying on their calls, texts and emails is something that George W Bush imposed on America after 9/11.
But the reality is this country has become one of the worst Big Brother states.
Using scaremongering over gangland crime, our Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald wants to make us a world capital of state spying.
As the Dail returns, new spying laws are high up the Government agenda, with little opposition.
The law currently allows authorities to monitor and retain all of your call logs, some web history and emails for up to two years.
The idea is that although innocent now, you may commit a crime in the future and your past communications will need investigating.
Think that’s bad? They used to store data for up to seven years.
In 2014, the European Court of Justice struck down the law on which our surveillance is based. It ruled that such gathering and storing of the data of innocent civilians amounted to “mass surveillance” and a violation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Two years on, our spying laws remain in force.
It is these Draconian laws, so open to outrageous abuse of power, which Fitzgerald now proposes to extend.
She also wants to include all your social media activity, WhatsApp messages/photos plus other forums yet to be invented in the State monitoring.
Big Mother is watching you and all your family as the State can also eavesdrop on and keep your children’s communications and chats.
Don’t worry, though, as the Gardai, the Army, Revenue Commissioners, GSOC and others are kind and decent folks who only go after bad guys, right?
“Sad face”, as the kids say on Whats-App. There isn’t room here to remind you of all the cases of State corruption and abuse of power going back 40 years.
The Morris Tribunal report detailed corruption in the Gardai in the Nineties and Noughties. And little has been done to stop these outrages happening again.
Garda whistleblowers exposed more wrongdoing in the last two years. And that still wasn’t enough to encourage reform — our current Garda Commissioner was accused of trying to undermine their evidence as recently as May.
Since 2009, over 20 Revenue officials have been disciplined for abuse of access to internal records. A vengeful wife had one of her friends change the tax status of her ex-husband in the Revenue system.
And politicians, Lottery winners and public figures’ information was accessed. A trade union official described a “culture of snooping” in the tax authority.
In the Department of Social Protection, some welfare staff were investigated for accessing and selling private information to the Press and private investigators.
Earlier this year, it was claimed the Garda Ombudsman had accessed the call logs of journalists’ phones.
This was all illegal searching of information — just wait until they can legally search every iota of your private data from Facebook to WhatsApp.
All they need is to label you a “suspect” — that most loaded of dirty words that can apply to anyone who is innocent until proven guilty.
These guys, who have abused their powers over innocent people so often in the past, are about to get even stronger functions from the Government.
It is seeking to update an illegal piece of legislation without having set up the oversight to ensure it has enacted responsibly.
It’s like sending round a truckload of vodka to a crowd of unreformed alcoholics and expecting them to stay sober.
The snooping on our communications can be applied to anyone — man, woman or child, innocent or guilty and without you even knowing. It can even be applied to journalists investigating abuses of power by the very people they’re seeking to uncover.
It’s an Orwellian nightmare disguised as a gangland crackdown.
Although the media make loud noises about gang shootings, most don’t care. We wouldn’t mind if they kept wiping each other out endlessly as long as more innocents aren’t harmed.
What is scary is allowing blank-cheque access to our private communications.
Why these over-reaching powers for a terrorism-free country? Fitzgerald doesn’t have a totalitarian dictatorship in mind for herself — but there is a Fine Gael leadership contest in sight and being seen as tough on crime may prove an asset.
The Minister put her laws before the Cabinet ahead of the Dail summer break without a single dissenting voice. Campaigners such as Digital Rights Ireland’s TJ McIntyre, UCD lecturer Dr Julien Mercille and Irish Times tech reporter Karlin Lillington are the lonely voices in the unsexy story of data access and retention.
The amendments are expected to be passed unanimously in the current Dail period. The handful of left-wing Independent TDs are likely to be among the few opposing the new snooping laws.
The next time you drop your jaw listening to Edward Snowden or watch a film about creepy government spying, remember the problem isn’t so far from home.
Your eyes may not be the only ones scanning your phone’s screen.