Are we blindly heading towards a police state?

In the last week I have become alarmed about 3 separate initiatives that collectively have the potential to move Ireland towards becoming a police state.

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The justice minister, Simon Harris is rushing to give the GardaΓ­ powers to use facial recognition technology by way of an amendment to the existing Garda SΓ­ochΓ‘na (Recording Devices) Bill which is currently going through the DΓ‘il.

Last Thursday in response to a question in the DΓ‘il from Deputy Gary Gannon, the Tanaiste, MicheΓ‘l Martin said: β€œI support the initiative to facilitate facial recognition, in respect of certain areas such as child sexual abuse…There is no proposal to use it on a broad basis or to take a wholesale approach.”

In an opinion piece in last Sunday’s Irish Independent, former minister for defence, Willie O’Dea wrote: β€œAn Garda SΓ­ochΓ‘na must be able to access and deploy the rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI), automation, facial recognition, big data and extended reality as quickly as the rest of society.”

Dr Ciara Bracken-Roche (Maynooth University school of law and criminology), Dr Elizabeth Farries (UCD Centre for Digital Policy) and Olga Cronin (Irish Council for Civil Liberties) wrote an extended opinion piece published last month in the Irish Times warning against the introduction of FRT.

β€œWe could see instances of function creep occur where FRT starts to be used in cases and contexts beyond what was originally stated,” they wrote.

Bracken-Roche, Farries and Cronin said: β€œFunction creep has been seen in other European countries, such as Austria, where FRT was initially to be used for serious crimes but was later reportedly used by police to identify protesters. The use of technology for a different purpose could also occur if authorities do not receive the correct training. This is a concern that cannot be dismissed in this jurisdiction.”

The Green Party has expressed concerns about the use of FRT and says it is β€œfar too complex” to be dealt with by way of an amendment and want any roll-out of the technology to be done through a standalone law.

At the moment the Green Party is holding the line against the introduction of FRT. If they capitulate it will be introduced in the New Year.

A report by John Mooney in The Sunday Times last month says Ireland is one of the most surveilled societies in the world.

The government asked Apple, Meta, Google and Microsoft to produce data on almost 20,000 accounts between 2013 and 2021.

The research by Surfshark ranked Ireland sixth in the world for requests about online accounts per head of population, ahead of more security-conscious countries including Israel, Russia and Taiwan.

The figure does not include requests from mobile telephone companies for users’ phone data.

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Speaking during theΒ  Final Stages of the Incitement to Hatred and Hate Crime Bill last Wednesday which was supported by Sinn FΓ©in, Labour and the Soc Dems, Deputy Paul Murphy pointed out that possessing “hateful” material on your devices is enough to face prison time.

Not only that, the burden of proof is shifted to the accused, who is expected to prove they didn’t intend to use the material to “spread hate”.

He pointed out that under Section 10 of the bill β€œa person who has hateful ideas, writes hateful things to himself or herself or downloads hateful material or whatever can be criminalised as a consequence of that.”

Furthermore, β€œAs a part of that, section 10(3) states that where “it is reasonable to assume that the material was not intended for the personal use” the onus will be put onto the accused to prove their own innocence by showing the material that they prepared or even just material they possessed was never intended to be publicly communicated.

Within section 10, we have the creation of thought crime and then a dangerous reversal of the burden of proof, where the burden is now placed on the accused to overturn the presumption that the material was not intended for personal use.

This is extremely problematic. There is a real problem in terms of civil liberties with this section.”

AontΓΊ, the Rural Independent Group,Β  PbP, Catherine Connolly, Michael Fitzmaurice and Michael McNamara voted against the bill which now goes to the Seanad for approval before it’s signed into law by the President.

If and when this legislation is signed into law it will have a chilling effect on free speech and the ability to speak out against certain government policies given that the bill doesn’t define the word hate.

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The Seventy-sixth World Health Assembly will be held in Geneva, Switzerland, on 21–30 May 2023.

It’s Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB) will present a progress report on the WHO pandemic treaty to the assembly for discussion and a revised draft will be distributed to Member States including Ireland by early June.

The INB will hold further meetings and discussions throughout 2023 before it submits the final draft for consideration by the 77th World Health Assembly in May 2024.

The pandemic treaty aims to bestow on the director-general of the WHO the power to call a global public health emergency of international concern on the β€˜suspicion’ or risk of an international incident.

It does not even have to be a pathogen affecting humans; it can be a pathogen affecting animals that could transfer to humans.

The right of sovereign governments to respond individually at local level to the declared pandemic would be suspended.

The WHO would have control over absolutely every aspect of citizens’ lives globally under this legally binding treaty.

The Director General of the world health organisation would have the power to decide when the pandemic or emergency is over and when he would give the power back to governments to control their response at local level.

The proposed new treaties would compress the mandatory reporting time for Governments to report a possible risk to public health to the WHO to 72 hours and the Director-general would have the power to make the decision on how to respond.

The position under the Irish constitution is that power flows from the people, not the other way around as it is, for example in the United Kingdom.

Powers entrusted by the Irish people to the Oireachtas cannot be given away by it, to unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats outside of the country without first consulting with the people via a referendum, in this case the power to direct policy on matters relating to public health.

The WHO pandemic treaty has never been mentioned in the DΓ‘il. Mainstream media has not written about it. In the UK Andrew Bridgen MP got 150,000 signatures that enabled him to put a motion before a Parliamentary committee in Westminster. YouTube pulled down his speech, saying that it went against their community standards.

Dr John Cambell interviewed Mr. Bridgen last week about the treaty and his YouTube account was suspended. It would appear that there is a drive to keep people in the dark about what is happening.

Was the experience we had of the Gardai strictly enforcing lockdown rules 2020-2021 a foretaste of what we can expect in the future when the WHO director-general declares the next pandemic?

It’s a matter of concern that Ireland currently appears to be in lockstep with other European countries in the post pandemic era where freedom of speech is being curtailed and police are being given extra powers to quell protests.

Is this a clue that perhapsΒ  strings are being pulled by agents outside sovereign states?

In conclusion, if the government succeeds with an amendment to the existing Garda SΓ­ochΓ‘na (Recording Devices) Bill to give the Gardai new powers to deploy FRT, together with the Hatred and Hate Crime Bill becoming law and the government signing up to the legally binding WHO pandemic treaty in 2024, Irish citizens can forget about speaking out or demonstrating against certain government policies in the future if they want to avoid the possibility of a jail sentence.

β€œIf the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” (George Washington)

Anna Kavanagh is co-founder of M-Compass Media