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TDs call for Stephen Donnelly to explain Department of Health “surveillance operation”

TDs in the Rural Independent Group have called on Stephen Donnelly, the Minister for Health, to come before the Dail and discuss the “surveillance contract” given by the Department of Health to Kinzen, a media start-up which, until recently, aimed to become “the Spotify of news.”

The group, which consists of Michael and Danny Healy-Rae; Mattie McGrath; Michael Collins; Carol Nolan; and Richard O’Donoghue, have said that they believe the surveillance carried out by Kinzen “borders on cyber-stalking” and that Kinzen was paid to use “digital mass surveillance tools to spy and monitor the exercise of democratic speech.” The group say that “The publication of detailed reports of Kinzen’s work for the Department has revealed troubling daily digests, seemingly focused on targeting anti-government speech or even good faith critiques of Covid policy,” and that the nature of the work likely violated “the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

Kinzen were paid nearly €110,000, over a nine-month period, to keep the Department updated on “misinformation” related to COVID-19. As part of that work Kinzen notified the Department of social media posts which they considered to be problematic, and the Department used that work to request social media companies remove posts the HSE believed to constitute “dangerous misinformation.”

Members of the Rural Independent Group, alongside other politicians, both foreign and domestic, were explicitly named within material provided to the Department by Kinzen.

A Gript investigation showed that the HSE misinformation reporting programme, which involved the HSE directly asking social media companies to remove public content, had expanded to include political speech; comments that disagreed with the government’s policies on COVID-19 and lockdowns, including promotional material for anti-lockdown protests; videos of parliamentarians speaking in their national parliaments; and media reports, from reputable mainstream publications like the New York Times, the BMJ, and Reuters, of side-effects from COVID-19 vaccines.

Deputy Mattie McGrath, leader of the group, said that “we now know that HSE bureaucrats intently used such surveillance material to brazenly have social media posts by journalists, academics and Oireachtas members removed from Twitter…this entire situation is a grotesque interference with the freedom of expression and stinks of this government’s overreach and draconian control over people’s freedom.”

One of the areas the Group wishes Donnelly to brief the Dail on relates to how Kinzen were selected for the contact with the Department. The Group have said that “the Minister’s Department handed out this surveillance contract without any public tendering process.”

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