Howlin calls for change to "antiquated" laws governing online communication

The government plans to introduce a new Digital Safety Commissioner post

Howlin calls for change to "antiquated" laws governing online communication

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin outside Leinster House, 24-11-2017. Image: Leah Farrell / RollingNews

The leader of the Labour Party has called for laws governing the sending of indecent images to be updated to take in modern technology.

Brendan Howlin has warned that the current legislation is hopelessly outdated.

He was speaking after a Dublin man was found guilty of using apps like Instagram and Snapchat to coerce young girls into sending him pornographic images.

The man - who is due to be sentenced on Friday - set up fake online profiles to target victims as young as nine-years-old.

Deputy Howlin said the internet and social media, "have brought people together" but warned they "clearly they have a dark side."

He said Irish laws need to be updated to reflect the changing technological landscape:

"In the vacuum of no clear government policy where we had a minister of state make a ludicrous suggestion that social media accounts should be linked to Public Services Cards; the existing offences of sending messages which are grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing should be updated to include new forms of communication," he said.

"As the law stands only phone [calls] and texts are covered."

Cases involving harmful digital communication are currently dealt with under the Post Office (Amendment) Act, 1951, and the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997.

While the laws were previously updated to include text messages, Deputy Howlin has warned that they are unfit to deal with online communication.

He laws should be updated immediately and called for a new Digital Safety Commissioner to be put in place as quickly as possible.

The Tánaiste Simon Coveney said he shared Deputy Howlin's concerns "as a politician but also as a father of three girls who know how to use my mobile phone as well as I do, despite the fact that the oldest is aged just eight."

He said the Minister for Communications is currently "exploring and consulting on the need for, feasibility of and requirements relating to" the setting up of a new Digital Safety Commissioner post.

He said it was not yet clear what the position would look like or what it would cost to creat but said he expects that "we will have it very soon."