No Safe Harbour

What is ‘safe harbour’ and what does overturning it mean for our data?

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The European Union has struck down ‘safe harbour’ rules which allowed the transfer of European data to the US

A decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union will lead to tougher privacy laws for EU citizens.

Previously, US companies such as Google and Facebook would transfer data received by their European headquarters in Ireland to data storage facilities in the US.

This data could be accessed and searched by the US Government through laws such as § 1881 FISA, which let them target data of “persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States to acquire foreign intelligence information.”

However, under EU law data could only be sent to another country if they provided ‘adequate protection’ of this personal data.

Max Schrems, an Austrian law student, brought a case to the Irish High Court arguing that the transfer of data by Facebook to the US breached EU law.

Schrems took the case in the aftermath of the revelations by Edward Snowden that the US had engaged in mass collection of personal data of both US and foreign individuals.

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Why a 23 percent Flat Tax Leads to Inequality

An examination of the economics of flat taxes

RENUA propose introducing a single 23% tax on any income over €8,000, including welfare payments, and abolishing the Universal Social Charge (USC) and Pay Related Social Insurance (PRSI).

 

Currently Ireland has two basic rates of income, 20% and 40%. Depending whether you are single, a lone parent or married the higher rate of tax kicks in between €33,800 and €42,800. Everything below this amount is still taxed at 20%.

 

Therefore you won’t take home less because you’ve moved into the higher bracket.

 

This is called a progressive tax system. The idea is that those who can afford to contribute more to the public system should pay more.

 

Proponents of the flat tax model argue that it is a fairer system to charge everyone the same rate, and that the progressive tax model essentially penalises those who work.

 

They also suggest that a simpler system of tax would free up resources to tackle those trading on the black market, such as under the table cash payments for services, which currently totals over €20 billion a year.

 

RENUA leader Lucinda Creighton also argues that the lower tax rate would mean that there would be 20% more in disposable income which people would reinvest back into the economy by increasing spending on goods and services.

 

However there are two specific issues with the idea of a flat tax. The first issue is the unequal impacts of having the same rate of tax regardless of earning.

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The Political Correctness Police

It is not just derogatory words that are at issue. It is assumptions as to how the world works without taking into account other viewpoints. The idea that you might define “opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate” perhaps might be because those views are, in fact, bigoted and illegitimate.

Johnathan Chait recently posted an article about the oppressive nature of political correctness. He defines political correctness as “a style of politics in which the more radical members of the left attempt to regulate political discourse by defining opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate.” The examples he uses of current day political correctness range from invocation of the term ‘mansplaining’, the use of ‘trigger warnings’ and the emergence of ‘micro-aggressions.’

His final conclusion is that political correctness is an ‘undemocratic creed’.

It is important to make a distinction at this point. Political correctness does not mean that certain types of speech are illegal. Yet, certain people are diverted from making certain statements for ‘fear’ that they might invoke the wrath of the political correctness police. Essentially he wants to live in a world where people can say what they want without facing criticism.

The basis of so-called politically correct speech is the idea that you have to be sensitive of other genders, races, sexualities and distinguishing characteristics. It is not surprising that these issues have emerged today given our growing awareness that society is not as binary as it once was.

When you have grown up in a world where you did not face societal boundaries, where you had more opportunities and did not have to worry about systemic discrimination you don’t need to worry so much about how things like speech can reinforce an unfair system. However, when you belong to any group of people who are treated as less than, language matters.

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Why Access to Justice Matters

If you took a poll of people on the street and asked them if access to justice was important, the overwhelming majority would probably say yes. But ‘access to justice’ is one of those ideals that we take as a given, like democracy or freedom of expression, without really thinking about what it means in practice and how it should be implemented.

One of the most visible aspects of the right to access justice is the court system. This could vary from getting compensation from the person who crashed into you while driving, to holding the government to account through judicial review. Without access to the courts it is often difficult or impossible to ensure that your rights are being upheld.

However, the right to access the courts does not just include a literal right to bring a case. Access remains an issue if you are unable to understand the court system or adequately represent yourself during your court case. This is why the right to access the courts is often indivisible from the right to legal representation.

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Why We Need to be Balanced about Balance in Journalism

“While a number of news outlets, including the BBC, have made efforts to try and tackle false balance, this phenomenon has taken on a new life in Ireland. Earlier this year the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland upheld a complaint against The Mooney Show on RTÉ for not giving an opportunity to hear an opposing view on same-sex marriage… This ruling is clearly absurd.”

John Stuart Mill was an  eloquent and outspoken advocate for free speech and balance in the media. He argued that listening to opinions we don’t necessarily agree with us helps us to learn greater truths.

The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

Objectivity in the media is one of the tenets  of journalistic integrity, and often this is achieved by providing ‘balance’, the opportunity for both sides to make their case. After all, a lack of balance suggests that media outlets can be used to push certain agendas without being required to present the other side. Given the influence the media has, and its role in mediating the relationship between the citizenry and government, balance is important in order to give a fully informed perspective on specific issues.

The principle of balance was the primary consideration in the seminal Irish case of Coughlan v Broadcasting Complaints Commission (2000) where the Supreme Court held that the transmission of 10 advertisements supporting a yes vote in the referendum to abolish the ban on divorce, compared to 3 advertisements supporting a no vote, was unconstitutional and in breach of fair procedures. There is now a strict 50-50 requirement (minute for minute parity) in all television and radio broadcasts concerning elections and referenda in Ireland.

Indeed this case represents a good example of the pitfalls of requiring equal coverage of both sides of a political issue. After all, the majority of mainstream political parties, as well as other civil society groups, supported the abolition. Groups who supported maintaining the ban on divorce were in the minority and it was for that reason that there were more ads in support of a yes vote than a no vote.

Indeed, it is interesting that when you Google ‘balance in the media’, the first page only shows results for ‘false balance’. False balance is defined as presenting an issue as being more balanced being opposing viewpoints than the evidence actually supports.

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Is the EU Democratic Deficit Really A Problem?

Most of the EU remains a mystery to the average citizen. There is little, if any, popular publication of what goes on in the various institutions. The perception is that decisions are made behind closed doors. To what extent is this a problem?

The EU is at a crossroads. The Euro Crisis has shaken the body to its core and put to bed the idea that the EU can gain all the benefits of integration without surrendering a substantial amount of sovereignty.

There has always been an underlying tension between those in the EU who see it as an intergovernmental body for cooperation in matters such as the market and the federalist camp who believe the goal of the EU is pursue an ‘ever-closer union’.

Now, the EU is pursuing a banking union and the Commission has the ability to look over national budgets and submit suggestions for changes. However, these measures alone are not enough to solve the broader issues that arise when you have a monetary union but not a fiscal union, the ability to redirect spending to the periphery for unemployment or economic shocks.

The debt crisis showed how damaging an incomplete union can be in real terms to citizens. The choice is broadly between reversing integration made in the last few decades in order to return to more of a loose free trade union or to move forward and create a stronger centre. Either way, standing still is not an option.

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Australia Vs. Refugees

How did Australia get to where they are on refugees?

Self-harm, suicide, rape, deplorable conditions and human suffering have all been frequently reported in the offshore processing facilities of Nauru and Manus Island, where refugees are transferred after arriving in Australia.

Refugees flee from terror only to find themselves subject to further cruel and inhumane treatment at the hands of the Australian government.

These events are not a secret. Reports of various incidents have been presented in newspapers, on TV and in parliament. The UN Human Rights Committee, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and Amnesty International amongst others have condemned Australia’s immigration practices as not only morally wrong, but highly illegal and a breach of international law.

Australia was one of the first signatories of the UN Refugee Convention and has signed up to other international human rights instruments such as the Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on Human Rights. Its refugee regime breaches all of these protocols.

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