I see the GardaÃ will be able to collect details of people’s emails and internet usage when they’re investigating a serious offence.
Serious offences, you say?
Great! It’s about time they came down hard on drug dealers and gun smugglers and murderers and rapists and child abusers.
Well, no, actually. Under the new rules, the government is going to redefine a serious offence. It used to be one that carries a minimum of five years in jail, but now a serious offence will be one that carries a maximum of six months in jail.
Read that again. A serious offence is one that carries a penalty of up to six months imprisonment. Up to! It used to be five years or more.
What does this mean?
Well, there’s a whole heap of penalties under different laws, and at the lower end they usually include a fine or imprisonment or both. An offence with a six-month maximum is at the very minor end of the scale and imprisonment is rarely, if ever, imposed. Yet this is the kind of offence that our government is going to redefine as serious.
I had a quick scan of the Irish Statute Book, and it looks like a lot of offences are more serious than you thought. Our fearless crimebusters can go through your emails if you have no licence for your horse, or if you didn’t put enough insulation in your house. If you break the speed limit or drive with bald tyres, the GardaÃ will have the power to demand records of who you correspond with and what web-sites you visit. If you ever copied a CD, or installed questionable software, they can get your entire file. If some cop on a power-trip falsely accuses you of misbehaving in public, that’s it. You’re screwed. They can get everything you have.
What’s really sinister is the fact that you don’t have to be guilty of anything. They can do this while investigating you for an extremely serious crime like pissing in the street, even if you didn’t do it. They just have to accuse you of it and they’ll be able to take away all your privacy.
Do I hear you asking why we should worry about this? Surely the GardaÃ would only use these powers against dangerous criminals.
Well, no, actually.
You see, we live in a country where the police force is so cynical and uncontrolled that they routinely misuse the data they already have access to. It’s normal for our cops to access the vehicle database to find out the details of car owners when their pals are buying a motor. They look up ex-directory numbers. They phone previous owners from the police station, as recently happened to a friend of mine.
They intimidate and arrest law-abiding citizens because it’s safer than tackling real criminals and it gets them into the station nice and warm at night. They routinely perjure themselves, as any Irish lawyer will tell you. They invent evidence. They lie. If you don’t believe me, read the Morris tribunal reports. Read about the framing of Frank Shortt. Read about Frank McBrearty. Read about the killing of Brian Rossiter. Read about the setting up of Dean Lyons.
Imagine the abuses such a rabble will get up to when they gain access to your emails and internet history.