Ireland: Internet Regulation in Ireland

Last Updated: 25 November 1998
Given that widespread use of the Internet is a relatively recent phenomenon together with the fact that self regulation is the preferred international policy approach, it is hardly surprising that there is no legislation in Ireland at present which deals specifically with the Internet.

Notwithstanding the lack of Internet specific regulation, various policies have been formulated concerning different aspects of Internet activity. Some of these policies have adopted a self regulatory approach and in other instances the introduction of legislation has been recommended or is already under preparation. It should also be noted that areas of existing legislation are relevant to Internet activities although not originally intended to deal with this phenomenon.

Regarding illegal and harmful use of the Internet, the first report of a working group on this topic recommends, inter alia, that a system of self regulation by the service provider industry should be introduced. This approach is in line with the position adopted by the European Commission in the Action Plan on promoting safe use of the Internet? . The report also recommends the establishment of a non-statutory advisory board to co-ordinate measures aimed at ensuring the success of the self-regulatory framework. The Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1997 makes it an offence to be in possession of or to show or download pornographic material from the Internet. To date no one has been prosecuted under this Act for the possession of pornographic material which emanated from the Internet.

In June 1998 the Government issued a framework document regarding Ireland's policy on cryptography and electronic signatures. In particular this policy states that legislation will be enacted to facilitate the use of electronic signatures through the establishment of a framework for the authorisation of bodies to act as nationally accredited Certification Authorities. It also proposes the adoption of legislation to minimise uncertainty as to the legal recognition of certified electronic signatures. The cryptography policy outlined in this document indicates a liberal approach to regulating encryption in Ireland. One of the key elements of the policy is that there will be no restrictions on the type or strength of encryption that users may have access to. Furthermore it is clearly states that the production, importation and use of encryption technologies in Ireland shall not be subject to any regulatory controls other than obligations relating to lawful access by law enforcement officers.

The export of encryption technologies from Ireland will continue to be regulated in accordance with the relevant EU regulations and decisions and Irish National legislation which reflect the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Dual-use Goods and Technologies and Conventional Arms.

The .ie Domain Registry based in University College Dublin Computing Services Department presently controls the allocation of second level Internet domain names in Ireland. In January 1998 a Policy Review Group was established to make recommendations on revising the existing policy. In July 1998 a proposal was published containing revised requirements for the registration of domain names in the .ie registry. The proposed new procedures aim to give greater registration options to corporate domain name holders in order to ensure, inter alia, that Irish brand names can be marketed effectively on the Internet. The proposals also contain provisions which to some extent will limit the likelihood of trademark and domain name disputes arising. It should be noted that these proposals are presently under discussion.

One important issue which has caused many legal headaches in recent times is the protection of copyright in an on-line environment. The recent draft Copyright and Related Rights Bill 1998 addresses some of the relevant issues in this regard. The Bill contains various sections dealing with copyright works in electronic form however it is the introduction of the making available right which is arguably the most important. This provision implements our obligations under the WIPO Copyright and Performances and Phonograms Treaties of 1996 and it specifically deals with the interactive aspects of Internet use in relation to copyright works.

An example of existing legislation which although not specifically intended to apply to Internet issues but is nonetheless relevant is the Data Protection Act of 1988. Although there have been no specific guidelines issued by the Data Protection Commissioner regarding the Internet, it is the accepted view that the provisions of this Act dealing with the fair obtaining and processing of personal information and the security of such information are applicable in relation to the collection and storage of information on-line . Given the ease with which personal information can be collected and used on the Internet and the potential for serious abuse that exists, this approach would appear the most practical at present.

For the moment the legally complex issues of jurisdiction and liability in relation to Internet activities remain unresolved in Ireland. Notwithstanding that these matters have been referred to in policy documents and working group discussions there has been no concrete action taken and there are no known court cases in this jurisdiction which have pronounced upon these issues. This is clearly indicative of the global nature of the Internet and the fact that in reality it is only international solutions which can effectively address these problems.

This article was intended to provide general guidelines. Specialist advice should be sought about specific facts.

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