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  • Senator Sharon Keogan

Senator Sharon Keogan — Cybersecurity in Leinster House

I would like to call upon the Government to undertake initiatives to politicians from surveillance by foreign Governments and private tech companies. The rather lax approach to security, along with the nature of our data protection laws, means that the Ministers, Deputies, Senators, city and county councillors along with the people who work with them are all vulnerable. Within the past week, major concern was expressed about the use of Hikvision CCTV in the Houses of the Oireachtas. The manufacturer of security equipment, Hikvision, which has links to the Chinese Communist Party, was banned in several jurisdictions over security concerns. In Italy, there were concerns the devices that sent data back to China. The company was also implicated in human rights abuses of the Uyghur people. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties said that in addition to the risk that cameras inside the Oireachtas may report back to China, security researchers regularly find new security vulnerabilities that allow hackers to seize full control of various types of Hikvision cameras.

I will not comment on the work being done by the National Cyber Security Centre and the Office of Public Works but I urge that some consideration be given to how vulnerable politicians are being compromised. I am mindful that many politicians and their staff often have one phone that they use for both personal and private use. WhatsApp which is owned by Meta, Facebook's parent company, is used widely for political activity. While WhatsApp end-to-end encryption does provide more security than other forms of digital communication it is still not appropriate for parliamentarian communication. We need to consider how we can counter-balance concerns regarding cybersecurity with what is practical and reasonable. Due to the lack of resources provided if a councillor were to find themselves subject to a freedom of information, FOI, general data protection regulation, GDPR, or court proceedings there is a risk their personal data could be compromised. Many local and national politicians need training on how they can best protect themselves. While the Government is now looking at banning telecommunication companies from using high-risk vendors which could potentially include Chinese companies, I note the US government banned TikTok on all federal government devices. We should consider something similar. The Chinese Government is not exceptional in conducting espionage and global surveillance. Disclosures leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that the US National Security Agency monitored calls from 35 world leaders. I think this issue warrants consideration and debate.

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