Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if she or any other Irish governmental officials were aware that the British authorities were monitoring Irish telephone and internet communications for years via underwater cables, as uncovered by a person (details supplied) in 2014; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22623/15]
108. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality her views on the revelations of a person (details supplied) in 2014, which alleged that billions of Irish communications, telephone and Internet, were and are being intercepted, recorded and stored through a series of underwater cables by Government Communications Headquarters in Britain; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22624/15]
109. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the actions or investigations that were carried out, or are being carried out, by her Department on foot of the Wikileaks reports in 2014 that large numbers of Irish telephone and-or Internet communications were being intercepted by the General Communications Headquarters in Britain, and were then shared with other intelligence agencies; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22625/15]
110. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the Irish Government authorised the British monitoring or tapping of undersea cables, as reported by a person (details supplied) in 2014; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22626/15]
112. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if she will provide details of any communication she has had with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade regarding the reported tapping of the underwater cable by General Communications Headquarters in Britain; if she is satisfied that any such reported surveillance is entirely a matter of within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22628/15]
113. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality further to Parliamentary Question No. 3 of 15 January 2015, if she has had any communication with the authorities in the United Kingdom in response to the reports of tapping of the undersea communications cables by General Communications Headquarters in Britain; if she has asked these authorities directly in the interests of transparency and the fundamental right of Irish and all European Union citizens to privacy whether this reported surveillance was authorised by the British Government; if so, under what British legislation is it covered under; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22629/15]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I propose to take Questions Nos. 107 to 110, inclusive, 112 and 113 together.
I am aware of the reports alleging that GCHQ in the UK tapped into undersea communications cables. The media reports also suggest this may have been linked to surveillance being carried out within the UK’s own jurisdiction.
My colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, was in contact with the British Embassy on this issue. It has been conveyed that it is generally understood that friendly relationships between States include acceptance of the principle that the privacy of communications must be respected.
Protection of data and the privacy of communication are not matters which should be taken lightly and it is right that communications are safeguarded and protected against unlawful intrusion and interception.
The lawful interception of communications is sometimes a necessary tool for law enforcement authorities in order to protect citizens against terrorism and other serious criminal threats. The majority of citizens would accept that there should be a balance between personal privacy and public safety once the mechanisms by which such data is accessed is both legal and proportionate. Criminals and terrorists have not been slow to take advantage of the various technological advances in communications in recent years. It is essential that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies have the necessary resources to address this dimension of the threat.
I want to emphasise that the interception of an individual’s communications in this State can only occur in the very specific circumstances laid down in the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act of 1993. This Act permits me to authorise an interception but only for the purposes of criminal investigation into serious offences or in the interests of the security of the State. The operation of the Act is overseen by a Designated Judge of the High Court who reports annually to the Taoiseach on his examination of its operation. In addition a Complaints Referee (normally a serving judge of the Circuit Court) is appointed to receive and investigate complaints from persons who believe that their communications have been unlawfully intercepted. If the Referee finds that there has been a violation of the Act he can order that the interceptions cease and recommend the award of compensation.
It should be clear from the above that there is no question of me, as Minister, having authorised or having the authority to authorise the kind of activity alluded to in the Deputy's question. Question No. 111 answered with Question No. 106. Questions Nos. 112 and 113 answered with Question No. 107.