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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 3 Dec 1997

Vol. 484 No. 1

Ceisteanna—Questions. - Information Society Commission.

Gay Mitchell


8 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Taoiseach if he will ask the Information Society Commission to include an examination of the law of libel, particularly on the Internet, in its report. [21433/97]

The Information Society Commission, established earlier this year is finalising an interim report. The commission has been considering legal issues regarding the use of the Internet, with particular emphasis on intellectual property rights.

The law on defamation is a matter for which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has responsibility. His Department also chairs a working group on the illegal and harmful use of the Internet which while it is focusing primarily on issues such as pornographic material, may also have an input in this area. It is due to produce its first report in the near future.

The Minister will introduce legislation in the area as soon as possible which will have regard to the Law Reform Commission's reports on libel and defamation, the recommendations of the Commission on the Newspaper Industry, and the consideration of any relevant advice from the Information Society Commission. I will consider the Deputy's suggestion when I have had an opportunity to study the Information Society Commission's interim report, which I expect to be submitted to me shortly.

I am grateful to the Taoiseach for agreeing to consider the suggestion in my question. Will he agree it is extraordinary that we should seek to defend intellectual property rights while not seeking to defend the good name and reputation of persons who are entitled to their good name? Will he ensure, whether it is done by the Information Society Commission under the aegis of his Department or the working group under the aegis of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, this matter is reviewed and a report is presented to the Houses of the Oireachtas on the gaps with a view to considering whether the gaps can be addressed to ensure citizens are properly protected?

I will endeavour to do that.

What is the best and most successful way of doing it is a matter for discussion in two different forums. It is an issue that has to be dealt with and we will try to deal with it.

Given that Schools Information Technology 2000, a policy framework for the new millennium, intends that information technology be made available to more pupils, will the Taoiseach agree that pornographic and terrorist type information on the Internet as well as the area of defamation should be examined before allowing access to young people? We must endeavour to ensure, in so far as it is practicable, that sufficient checks and balances are in place before this information technology reform is put in place?

If the laws on libel have to be amended, will the Taoiseach take into account the difficulties in bringing news stories to the attention of the public, given the restrictions in libel law on news reporting?

Will the Taoiseach agree there is a difficulty in enforcing any controls on libel or the dissemination through the Internet of pornography or methods of making bombs for killing people? The difficulty is that the Internet is stateless and, therefore, there is no jurisdiction governing it. Will the Taoiseach agree there is a necessity for international action to create some form of jurisdiction to govern the Internet and that it needs to be brought within the framework of the rule of law, the same as all other activities? This is a matter that needs to be tackled, at the very least, at United Nations level through a convention or at some other international forum. Will the Taoiseach raise the issue at the European summit in Luxembourg?

In tandem with the question posed by Deputy Bruton, if we cannot get at the originators of the libel, the matter of distributors needs to be looked at.

I will take all the points made on board. As Deputies are aware there is great difficulty in the control and regulation of the Internet. Deputy Bruton correctly said it is not something over which we have control in our jurisdiction. It is an international issue and as he said it is stateless. Much useful work was attempted in this area by the former Minister for Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Mervyn Taylor. The working group on the illegal and harmful use of the Internet is continuing that work. On the issue of defamation, it is practically impossible to check on the instigators both in our and in other jurisdictions. Even where they believe they have found a source it is almost impossible to do anything about it. I will consider what is the best forum in which to raise it. In the meantime it is important for us to focus on the Bill on child pornography, violence against children and other issues. Those are the primary issues but not the only issues to be dealt with. That legislation will be available shortly.