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The Irish police (Garda) is about to get new, wide-ranging powers to spy on people’s private online conversations happening via chat apps – in order to “crack down on crime” after last week’s events in Dublin.
But the events the Irish legislators are talking about are not the stabbing of 5 and 6-year-old children and their caregivers, but rather the reaction to the heinous crime, namely, the protests and riots that followed.
The Irish government is, overall, making a huge effort to redirect focus from the original event (committed by an Algerian man who had apparently been granted Irish citizenship) to preventing it from increasing the anti-migrant sentiment, that is already present in many European countries as a result of the controversial migrant policies over these last years.
In the words of opposition Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald – who was referring to the authorities’ relentless maneuvering around the real issue, including by calling protesters “extremists” – she has never witnessed such “brazen ass covering (by the government).”
And it’s about to get more brazen. Justice Minister Helen McEntee (who has good reason to try “ass covering” given that there are calls for her resignation) on Tuesday got the government to agree to give the police thus far unprecedented powers, which will also include allowing police inspectors to get mobile phone operators’ location data of citizens – “in the interests of protecting a person’s safety or life.”
If they decide the circumstances are right, it also means the police would be given access to private messages on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Signal apps.
Those in power also continue to, in public statements and also through “sympathetic” to them and their agendas legacy media, try to make connections between Europe-wide instances of anti-migrant sentiment as somehow linked to the reaction of the Irish to the school attack.
And the country’s foreign minister, Micheál Martin, even thought that some person posting, somewhere on the internet, “kill foreigners” – was a cause for alarm and for making sure those new powers supposedly there to tackle online hatred are pushed through.
All in all – the overarching question is whether any of that is enough to plunge Ireland’s track record regarding online privacy to an ever lower level.