Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Questions (32)

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Question:

32. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the expected timeline to ratify the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime; when he plans to do so; the legislation required to do so; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26882/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Justice)

The previous question dealt with some of the many challenges in the online sphere. A related matter is the whole area of child sexual abuse material, material posted without consent, violent sexual imagery and material of that nature. The Budapest Convention on Cybercrime is broad and part of what it examines is the area of production orders and preservation orders. That area gives additional resources and powers to domestic legislatures. I believe this needs a statutory basis in this jurisdiction.

I thank the Deputy for this question. Deputies will be aware that I outlined the position on ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime in January of this year. I updated the House on the significant progress made in the ratification process within the term of this Administration, particularly through the introduction of legislation to give effect to the key criminal law provisions of the convention.

The majority of the provisions of the convention are provided for under domestic law. The convention is broad in scope and its measures are provided for in criminal justice, interception, sexual offences , extradition, mutual legal assistance and copyright legislation.

The most significant step towards ratification of the convention was the enactment in 2017 of the first Bill in this jurisdiction specifically targeted at cybercrime. The Criminal Justice (Offences Relating to Information Systems) Act 2017 gave effect to an EU directive on attacks against information systems, the main provisions of which reflect the key provisions of the Council of Europe convention.

The recent legislation, therefore, also gives effect to provisions in the convention relating to offences against information systems and their data, and search and seizure powers in respect of such data. An Garda Síochána, the organisation with primary responsibility for dealing with cybercrime, has strongly welcomed this important legislation as a comprehensive weapon to tackle criminality involving computer systems and interference with such systems or their data. Officials from my Department recently attended a meeting of the Cybercrime Convention Committee in Strasbourg and discussed with the Council of Europe Ireland's positive progress on ratification.

The current Government legislation programme makes provision for the drafting of a new cybercrime Bill to give effect to those remaining elements of the convention not covered in national law. This is to ensure that Ireland can ratify the convention and is evidence of the Government's clear commitment in this regard. My intention is that this legislation will be in place to facilitate formal ratification of the convention as soon as it is possible.

I was aware that the Minister would point to the Criminal Justice (Offences Relating to Information Systems) Act 2017. That is related to what we more immediately think of as cybercrime. As we have both outlined, however, the convention deals with issues such as online sexual exploitation. The sexual abuse of children online is one of the most serious issues that any society can face. The key elements of the Budapest convention that relate to this are production orders and preservation orders under Article 18. It outlines that Article 18 is a domestic power relating to issues such as subscriber information which, as the Council of Europe has outlined, is often the most sought after data in criminal investigations due to the growth of cloud computing, remote data storage and so on. This raises serious challenges for competent authorities seeking access to specified compute data. It hinders criminal investigations and An Garda Síochána is concerned by this. We do not currently have powers in legislation with regard to Article 18. This is one of the significant outstanding issues. The Minister said that legislation will be brought forward soon. When will it be brought forward? Will it deal with the Article 18 transposition?

The legislation will enable us to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime. It is important that any such ratification in legislative form will enable the Garda and other stakeholders to ensure the practical application. I acknowledge, however, that there has been a delay in the ratification of the convention. I am keen to focus on ensuring that the draft legislation is introduced at the earliest opportunity. I refer, again, to the Criminal Justice (Offences Relating to Information Systems) Act 2017, which gives effect to key provisions of the convention. This is now available to An Garda Síochána. I also acknowledge other accompanying legislation such as the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017, which is a Private Members' Bill sponsored by Deputy Howlin. All parties in the House are currently subscribing towards this Bill.

That legislation is of value but it is related to specific criminal offences and new offences and it does not necessarily assist with the investigation of an offence. Ratification of the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime is important to An Garda Síochána, especially to the Garda national protective services bureau, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, ISPCC and the State's special rapporteur on child protection. Will the Minister engage with and meet An Garda Síochána officers? They will communicate to the Minister how urgently this is needed to ensure that criminal investigations can be carried out and be successful and that the people responsible for these heinous crimes can be fully investigated and brought before the law.

Will the Minister commit to seeking a further information meeting with An Garda Síochána on this specific issue? He said: "...legislation will be in place to facilitate formal ratification of the convention as soon as it is possible". What does "as soon as it is possible" mean? Does it mean before the end of the year? What timeline exactly is he talking about? "As soon as it is possible" can mean any number of things.

I assure the Deputy that I engage actively with An Garda Síochána on the issue and will continue to do so. Not only is it an area of some complexity, it is an area that is not specifically under the remit of one Department.

It also has an international dimension. In that regard, Ireland is represented at the second protocol drafting plenary meetings, while we are in the process of implementing the legislation necessary to allow full ratification of the convention. A further meeting will be held in the next few weeks and Ireland will be represented. We are keen to ensure, when the second protocol to the Budapest Convention is finalised, that it will align as closely as possible with the issues raised by the Deputy such as protocols, notifications and production. We want it to align with the EU e-evidence package. The recent adoption of a mandate to allow the European Commission to participate in negotiations on behalf of the Union is welcome. There is much work to be done. It is a complex issue. My priority is to see the publication and introduction of the legislation to allow for ratification as soon as possible.