Committee pushes back wiretapping legislation for white-collar crimes
TDs and senators on the Joint Business Committee have pushed back against laws proposed by Leo Varadkar allowing competition authorities to use wiretapping and surveillance to tackle white-collar crime, saying they are too broad and may conflict with constitutional, European and international human rights law.
In a pre-legislative review report on the Competition Bill 2021, the committee identified 17 issues it wished to address in drafting the bill, including specific limitations on how the Commission de Competition and Consumer Protection (CCPC) could conduct covert surveillance.
“As currently drafted, the general regime does not appear to address how the proposed supervisory powers will work, including the level of supervision and meeting minimum requirements for interception of communications in criminal investigations such as as identified by the European Court of Human Rights, ”the report said.
The bill as envisioned by the Ministry of Business would grant significant new powers to competition officers to intercept electronic communications in order to fight cartels.
According to a consultation document released in January, the Tánaiste seeks to allow the CCPC to bypass An Garda Siochána to independently collect evidence of white-collar crimes.
The bill includes provisions for eavesdropping on telephone conversations, accessing Internet communications and obtaining clandestine recordings of private meetings.
Currently, the CCPC only has access to metadata, which indicates when individuals communicated, but does not provide the content of those communications.
The oversight provisions are part of a package designed to strengthen the ability of the CCPC to crack down on business conspiracies and collusion.
The draft competition law also includes new rules on bid-rigging and prosecution powers for “jump gun” on mergers – when parties perform an unlawful merger after failing to do so. inform the commission.
The proposals would greatly increase the CCPC’s power to detect, investigate and prosecute illegal cartel activity, but put Ireland out of step with much of Europe. Among the EU states, only Austria has similar provisions.
The Committee held two meetings in February 2021 with officials from the Department and then with representatives of the CCPC and Comreg to assess how these new powers could be used.
Officials have said they want to expand their current power to have as much access to communications as possible while upholding current legal safeguards for those suspected of breaking the law.
The ministry recognized the importance of judicial oversight and indicated that oversight would be carried out with a warrant.
The Irish Civil Liberties Council is concerned that the CCPC may acquire the power to intercept communications. He wants guarantees such as proof of necessity, a system of control and that any surveillance would be proportional to the right to privacy.