Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and Minister of State James Browne have secured Government approval for the drafting of new legislation which will permit Gardaí to swiftly access criminal evidence in digital form.

The legislation will provide gardaí with a basis to seize potential digital and online evidence in criminal investigations, subject to privacy safeguards.

The Criminal Justice (Protection, Preservation and Access to Data on Information Systems) Bill 2024 will ensure gardaí have swift access to criminal evidence which is in digital form. Traditional search and seize laws target physical spaces and objects and predate the technological evolution seen in recent years.

Given the amount of criminal activity, which is now taking place in virtual space, this new Bill will allow gardaí to access online evidence easily while ensuring individuals’ privacy rights are respected.

Ms McEntee said the bill “will mark a significant step forward in tackling crime that operates in the online space. Traditional search and seize legislation was drafted to target physical spaces and objects.

“It pre-dates the technological evolution seen in recent years where much of human, and in turn criminal, activity is taking place in the virtual space and with the footprints of this activity accessible often only on private cloud infrastructures.”

The proposed legislation will give effect to a range of measures contained in international agreements Ireland is party to, all relating to tackling crime with an online element. These include the Council of Europe Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, the EU E-evidence Regulation [(EU) 2023/1543] and the EU Terrorist Content Online Regulation [(EU) 2021/784].

Giving reassurance that the measures proposed will be subject to the necessary privacy safeguards including judicial authorisation, Minister James Browne said, “I am very pleased that the Government has supported the general approach to the preparation of this important legislation which will ensure An Garda Síochána has the requisite tools to police in the digital age.

“Ireland is uniquely positioned as the EU base of a significant number of internet service providers. This means that we have a key role in terms of our enforcement of EU measures aimed at tackling crime and terrorism that online services can facilitate.”

The bill will also give Coimisiún na Meán powers to sanction ISPs for non-compliance with the EU Terrorist Content Online Regulation, a bloc-wide mechanism for removing online terrorist content.

Following Cabinet approval, the scheme will now be referred to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on justice for pre-legislative scrutiny.

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