Cybercrime is a major concern for Irish business and dedicated legislation to tackle this issue has been on the Government’s agenda for some time. As early as 2008, Deputy Willie O’Dea outlined to the Dáil the Government’s plans to implement the Criminal Justice (Cybercrime) Bill, that was then in preparation in the Department of Justice.

The purpose of this legislation was to enable the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime1 which Ireland had signed in 2002 and to transpose the 2005 EU Framework Decision on Attacks against Information Systems2 which EU Member States were to have implemented by 16 March 2007.

However, this piece of legislation continued to languish on the outer reaches of the Government’s legislative programme for a number of years until finally making the “A List” in Autumn 2015, retitled as the Criminal Justice (Offences relating to Information Systems) Bill. This Bill was finally published on 19 January 2016. The restated purpose of the Bill is to give effect to certain provisions of the EU Cybercrime Directive.3 That Directive seeks to address the increasing occurrence of hacking and other attacks on computer systems, networks and data by improving co-operation between EU Member States and harmonising the law in respect of cybercrime. The Directive, which replaces the 2005 Framework Decision, was due for implementation by 4 September 2015. That date has now passed and unfortunately this first piece of Irish legislation to directly tackle cybercrime has fallen away as a result of the dissolution of the Dáil pending the upcoming general election. However, given the pressing need for action by Ireland here, it can be expected that when the new Dáil convenes that the Bill will be restored irrespective of the identity of the parties making up the next Government.

The new legislation will also give Ireland scope to finally ratify the Cybercrime Convention as certain pieces of requisite domestic legislation will then be in place. The European Commission has, for some years, actively encouraged the ratification by Member States of the Convention given the importance of the instrument in the fight against cybercrime.

If enacted in its current form, the Bill would introduce five dedicated cybercrime offences:

  • Accessing an information system4 without lawful authority;
  • Interfering with an information system without lawful authority so as to intentionally hinder or interrupt its functioning;
  • Interfering with data without lawful authority;
  • Intercepting the transmission of data without lawful authority; and
  • Use of a computer, password, code or data for the purpose of the commission of any of the above offences.

The offence of interfering with an information system without lawful authority carries a maximum sentence on indictment of up to 10 years and the other offences carry maximum sentences of up to 5 years on indictment. The Court can treat identity theft as an aggravating factor when sentencing in respect of the offences of interfering with information systems and data. It will also be an offence to obstruct a Garda acting under the authority of a search warrant investigating a cybercrime offence,5 and company officers may be liable individually if an offence was committed by the company with their consent or connivance.

This draft legislation is to be welcomed. Previous experience in Ireland and abroad has shown that attacks against information systems do require technology-specific legislation and cannot be satisfactorily regulated through the application of more general law provisions, as was attempted in the Criminal Damage Act 1991 where a decision was made to bring crimes involving computers within its scope rather than draft dedicated legislation. This was criticised at the time but the legislation went ahead. Certain deficiencies in the 1991 Act will also be addressed by the Bill, if it proceeds to enactment.