The Irish Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes has described reports of US security agencies obtaining data as ‘‘nothing new’’, as such access to data for legitimate reasons is not unusual.
Recently, the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers have carried reports that US intelligence services had been accessing servers of companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple in order to monitor the activities of people, by gaining access to various telecommunications records, excluding content.
In response to a question as to whether he was aware of the activities of the US intelligence officials, Mr Hawkes said that he knew ‘‘in a general way’’. He noted that ‘‘in the rather murky world of intelligence, there is significant power to access information for intelligence purposes’’.
Mr Hawkes indicated that, in fairness to the US intelligence services that were accessing data, they are often blamed following terrorist attacks for not being aware of the people involved.
He expressed the opinion that concern should not surround the access to such data by US security agencies, but rather as to whether there are ‘‘appropriate safeguards’’ in place to stop an abuse of such power occurring.
He went on to say that the reported actions of the US intelligence services went beyond the remit, purpose and scope of data protection laws, which are designed to provide protection to people in respect of day-to-day activities and are not well suited to matters of intelligence and security.
Discussions regarding the activities of the US intelligence agencies are on-going and continue at a European level.