Opening Address by the Minister for Justice and Equality Mr Charles Flanagan T.D.

at the 46th INTERPOL European Regional Conference

Crown Plaza, Dublin

 

16 May 2018

Mr President of INTERPOL, MR Meng Hongwei, Secretary General of INTERPOL, Mr Jürgen Stock Commissioner Ó Cuailáin,  Delegates from the European region and participating observers, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour to be here with you this morning at the opening of the 46th European Regional Conference. I am grateful for the invitation to address you. I congratulate Commissioner Ó Cuailáin, Secretary General Stock and their staff on bringing this important gathering of police, and others working to combat crime, to Dublin for the first time. I hope that your discussions over the next two days will be fruitful but also that you will have opportunities to relax and enjoy what this city has to offer.

There is a saying “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” The work of INTERPOL over the past, almost 100 years, epitomises the value of police services across the world working together. Thanks to the excellent cooperation fostered by INTERPOL, police officers here in Ireland and across the world are provided with invaluable support in their efforts to protect citizens from terrorism and crime in all its many forms. The global network of INTERPOL National Bureaus that operate around the clock handling enquiries plays a vital role in this and I’d like to pay tribute to the Irish INTERPOL National Bureau based in Garda Headquarters for its contribution to this network and also to the members of An Garda Síochána who have served in INTERPOL’s Headquarters in Lyon over the years. I am sure Commissioner Ó’Cuailáin will join with me in assuring you, Secretary General, of our continued practical support for your endeavours.

Turning to your Conference programme, I note that the focus is on what are, regrettably, the key issues of our times -- security concerns in Europe, the challenges we share in countering terrorism, cybercrime and organised crime. Delegates can look forward to insightful analysis of the serious threats we face across the region and practical advice to support investigations. The possibilities of facial recognition technology, the use of social media during counter-terrorism investigations, and future training needs in relation to cyber enabled crimes all feature on the Programme.

Countering terrorism is not a new phenomenon for many countries. Indeed, it is an unfortunate reality because of the history of this island, that dealing with terrorism is not a new challenge here and members of An Garda Síochána are deserving of praise for the role that they have played in dealing with the problem of terrorism on this island down through the decades.

The current global terrorism threat is dynamic and constantly evolving, and we too must continue to evolve to meet the challenges it presents. Any actions that we can take to protect our democratic freedoms by stopping those who seek to attack our freedoms and our way of life must remain a priority for us.

Just as the threat from terrorism is multidimensional and complex, our responses and preventative measures must be multifaceted and combat all stages of terrorism and violent extremism. The vital work carried out by our policing and security authorities must be complemented by strong, long-term measures to avoid an environment conducive to the social exclusion and polarisation that might lead to radicalisation and violent extremism.

We can all appreciate the enormous benefits of digital technology and communications. However, those who seek to do us harm also benefit from the convenience of the internet. Terrorist attacks, committed or attempted, have brought into sharper focus how terrorist groups are using the internet to radicalise, recruit, communicate, direct terrorist activity and then use it as a mass communication medium to glorify their atrocities. We must continue in our efforts at national, European and global level to work with industry in dealing with this aspect of the threat.

The threat we face is a shared one and it makes sense for us to continue to do whatever we can to improve how we work together to combat it. INTERPOL’s facilitation of police cooperation is most valuable in this regard, and having the framework of technical and operational support in place undoubtedly makes our global community safer. Gatherings such as this play a hugely important role in bringing together diverse perspectives, pooling knowledge and expertise and developing new approaches to the serious challenges confronting us.

Delegates will be aware that there is also considerable work underway at EU level to enhance information-sharing and develop a level of interoperability that will make it easier for security, law enforcement and border management authorities to carry out their vital work to counteract threats and protect our communities. I can assure you that Ireland is committed to this agenda and will play its full part in supporting measures to encourage and facilitate the exchange of information which is so important in the fight against those who regard freedom as a threat and democracy as an enemy.

The protection of our borders is an absolute priority for the Government. My Department and An Garda Síochána are working on a series of initiatives to strengthen border security. And I am pleased to say that one really important such initiative will come into operation next Friday 25 May. This is when the Irish Passenger Information Unit (IPIU) will go live. The IPIU, based in my Department, will receive PNR data from carriers and exchange data and processing results with other EU Member States and with Europol. It will also assume responsibility for processing Advanced Passenger Information. The work of the IPIU is underpinned by the common legal framework for the processing and transfer of passenger name record data contained in the EU Passenger Name Record Directive and domestic regulations. The use of this data, in accordance with law, will greatly assist in strengthening the integrity of our borders, fighting serious crime and enhancing public safety. This initiative complements other initiatives enabled by technology including INTERPOL’s Lost and Stolen Travel Documents Database. Our authorities have had the benefit of an automated connection to this Database since November 2016 that facilitates the systematic checking of all passengers documents. There is no doubting the very significant benefits that modern technology and information systems bring to all of our lives. This technology is increasingly relied upon by governments, businesses and individual citizens alike. However, as recognised by the strong focus in your Conference Programme on cybercrime, reliance on information systems and their data can also unfortunately lead to increased vulnerability. New technology creates opportunities for new forms of crime. As we are all aware, cybercrime and attacks on information systems have become increasingly problematic and challenging across Europe and, indeed, the world in general. There was a time when crime was usually committed in a physical space, a place where the criminal was also present, such as in the traditional forms of fraud or theft. Technology-related offences are committed in cyberspace, where the perpetrator may be at a very distant physical remove from their crime target, operating stealthily and insidiously. While cyber criminals could be considered to operate in a somewhat “virtual” digital world, remotely and virtually invisibly, the effects of their attacks are very real indeed. Such attacks can have a devastating effect on businesses, from both a financial and reputational perspective, and of course individuals who can also be the target of serious crimes such as fraud and theft.

As policing professionals, you will be aware of the challenges to tackling this new form of crime including the increased mobility of data, underreporting of cybercrime, the ever increasing advancements in internet based economies, and the challenge of multi-jurisdictional offences and enforcement together with the multiplicity of actors involved in tackling cybercrime.

Tackling cybercrime, in all its guises, remains a key challenge for the future; a challenge that calls for the concerted efforts of governments, law enforcement, industry and the international communities.

The scale of the work that has been undertaken with regard to cyber security and cybercrime, and the priority that it will be afforded for the future reflects the fact that much of how we manage our lives, our economies, our resources is increasingly done on-line. With all the advantages that this brings comes the need to ensure that systems are developed and operated with security in mind and that our cybercrime response is both robust and multi-jurisdictional.

One requirement, an important one, in dealing with cybercrime is having in place strong legislation with effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties. Ireland has recently introduced legislation to deal with attacks on information systems and their data. The Criminal Justice (Offences Relating to Information Systems) Act 2017, which came into operation last June, is the first piece of dedicated cybercrime legislation in this jurisdiction. This landmark statute gave effect to an EU Directive on attacks against information systems, an instrument which served to harmonise our EU laws on cybercrime and present a united front to counter its transnational dimension.

The new legislation seeks to protect information systems and infrastructures, and their important data, from cyberattacks from both within and outside the State.

The Act makes it an offence to engage in cybercrime activity and provides strong penalties for those found guilty of offences relating to information systems, including up to 10 years’ imprisonment if the crime is sufficiently serious. The Act also implements key legal provisions in the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime, often known as the Budapest Convention. I am pleased to say that the vast majority of the provisions in the Convention are now covered on the Irish Statute Book. There is more work to be done, and some further legislation is in train to enable formal ratification of the Treaty, to which Ireland is already a signatory.

Another important requirement in dealing with cybercrime and the other key challenges of terrorism and organised crime which will you discuss over the next few days is resources. With our economic circumstances greatly improved, the Government is determined to make the investments that are necessary in An Garda Síochána. These investments are in the form of people, equipment and technology and take account of the extra demands that are being made on our police service because of the threats posed by old and new forms of unlawful activity. These investments will ensure that An Garda Síochána can continue to play its part in cooperation with police organisations around the world to tackle these challenges.

On that note I will conclude. I wish your Conference every success and look forward to hearing the outcome of your discussions.

Thank you.

Charlie Flanagan TD

Charlie Flanagan TD

Charlie Flanagan TD is Minister for Justice and Equality.

 

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Updated: 16 May 2018

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