Government told to ‘properly regulate’ internet giants


Ireland must not be seen to be soft on regulating large internet companies as it seeks support from other European Union member states in Brexit negotiations, the Cabinet has been privately warned.

Ministers have been told that there is a perception within the EU that Ireland, while benefitting from internet giants having large operations here, is “not willing to properly regulate them”.

A memorandum prepared for the Cabinet on EU data sharing for criminal investigations says “Ireland is relying on the solidarity and support of other EU member states” in Brexit negotiations.

An Irish refusal to take part in EU moves towards online information sharing “may be interpreted as a lack of willingness by Ireland to play a constructive part in the development of the union”, the memo states.

The warning is contained in a briefing from the Department of Justice on proposed measures to share electronic evidence in criminal investigations. The Cabinet last week agreed to Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan’s request that Ireland comply with the EU rules to share such information.

There is already a perception in some member states that Ireland is benefitting financially by attracting international service providers to establish themselves in Ireland but is not willing to properly regulate them

The European Production and Preservation Orders are designed to assist criminal investigations, such as those into terrorist attacks, by allowing access to data held by social media, webmail, messaging services and mobile applications or “apps”.

Official concern

The orders can be issued to seek the preservation or production of data held by such companies in criminal investigations.

Mr Flanagan’s briefing for Ministers reflects an official concern that Ireland’s attitude to large online operators may be damaging its reputation among other EU states.

Photo of an iPad showing the Google search engine home page. Photograph: Chris Radburn/PA Wire
File photograph: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

While no companies are named in the memo, Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and others all have a significant presence in Ireland. The rate of corporation tax levied on such companies has also caused irritation in other European counties.

“There is already a perception in some member states that Ireland is benefitting financially by attracting such international service providers to establish themselves in Ireland but is not willing to properly regulate them, to the detriment of other EU states,”the briefing says.

‘Disappointment’

“Non participation in the e-evidence proposal will strengthen that view.”

It also says there was “clear disappointment” at Ireland’s decision not to take part in previous European evidence-sharing initiatives.

“It is a fact, that with the imminent departure of the UK from the EU, Ireland needs to build new relationships and alliances with like-minded EU states. A decision not to opt into relevant measures that [are] clearly welcomed by the other member states may be interpreted as a lack of willingness by Ireland to play a constructive part in the development of the union.”

It also says that the UK is likely to decline to participate and will favour a bilateral arrangement with the United States.

Ireland’s reputation within the EU would suffer if there was any suspicion that it was somehow going to follow the UK lead in this regard, the Cabinet was also told. Should Ireland choose not to engage proactively with the latest measure then its influence as its member state may diminish.

Mr Flanagan was said to be of the view “that this would not be desirable, particularly at such a critical time when Ireland is relying on the solidarity and support of other EU member states in the context of Brexit negotiations”.

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