A while ago, I expressed concern at the mention in the Programme for Government of plans to require registration/traceability of all mobile phones in Ireland. Antoin added some information about the former policy of the relevant Department (Communications).

Things have moved on – dangerously. In particular, it is disturbing that this proposal is being dealt with by the Minister for the Drugs Strategy, Pat Carey. In this situation, what the Communications civil servants had to say will hardly be very relevant.

Let’s look at the Irish Times ‘breaking news’ report on an interview given by Carey today.

Pay-as-you-go mobile phones will have to be registered in future under a Government plan to tackle drug dealers and related crime.

Automatic link between drug dealing and pay-as-you-go phones. Still waiting for any evidence of this.

Pay-as-you-go mobile phones can be purchased over the counter with no requirement to register the number with a name or address.

As can the overwhelming majority of consumer products in Ireland.

In an interview published today, Minister of State with responsibility for drugs strategy Pat Carey said he believed a requirement to register such phones would help tackle the “rampant use” of mobile phones in prisons, as well as the small-time drug dealers operating in the “shopping centre car park, the church car park or the local football field”.

As I mentioned, it’s stupid to give the ‘Drugs Minister’ (as the Indo puts it: thanks, Cian) responsibility for an issue that involves civil liberties and communications policies. Furthermore, registration has no consequences for the physical location of use – and would it really be impossible for a drug dealer to find (or steal) a phone, if this even was an issue?

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One today about the move, he said: “We are anxious to have it introduced as soon as it is technically possible to do so.”

Just because something is technically possible doesn’t mean that it’s right…

Mr Carey said that up to now, policy had been to try to reduce the supply of drugs but that it was clear that policy had to keep pace with modern technology and that it needed to be monitored.

This is not a modern-technology issue and it is nothing to do with supply (perhaps the little-known supply-and-mobile-phones rule of economics?).

“We have seen how valuable the ability to track mobile phone traffic has been in bringing criminals to justice in recent times,” he said.

Cashing in on the O’Reilly trial? Plus, they aren’t criminals until they are convicted, and I don’t believe that registration or non-registration has been a significant factor in these cases (again, Minister, where’s the evidence?)

The Minister accepted there may be civil liberties concerns with such policies but that he believed the fact lives were also at stake would override those.

Ah, the old favourite. If you disagree with the State’s power grab and attempt to further abolish the right to communicate anonymously, you want to kill people. I’m very sorry. I won’t post about it any more. Lives are at stake!

Mr Carey said the measure was included in the Fianna Fáil and Green Party Programme for Government.


Update: More from Fergus and TJ.