Minister denies widespread surveillance of mobile phones

Requests for access to phone data reportedly exceed 1,000 a month

Phone, data, requests, GSOC, phone tapping, journalists, review, Frances Fitzgerald

File photo of a stock picture of a teenage girl using an iPhone mobile phone | Image: Chris Radburn / PA Wire/Press Association Images

The Justice Minister has denied that there is widespread surveillance on the phones of private citizens.

Frances Fitzgerald has denied newspaper reports that gardaí and other agencies have put surveillance on over 62,000 phones.

Requests for access to mobile phone, landline and internet data reportedly exceeded 1,000 a month between 2008 and 2012.

Most came from the gardaí - with the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) the Defence Forces and Revenue also making the requests.

The Minister says she has not used her own powers to allow the interception of phone calls involving any journalists.

And she says reports of widespread surveillance on the general public are wide of the mark:

"Let's be very clear, there is no widespread snooping on private individuals, private citizen's phones, or their records. I want to say that to the public. When you examine the statistics of about 8,000 requests by the guards every year - that is not out of line. For example, in the UK you would have over 725,000 requests."

Minister Fitzgerald has announced a review of the laws on phone surveillance. The government has asked former Chief Justice John Murray to review the laws.

The minister has said she has been assured by GSOC that any of its monitoring of journalists' phones is completely legal.

But she said she had no knowledge of GSOC activities before journalists themselves reported them.

The Communications Minister has said that Gardai have to have modern methods of investigation, including access to phone records.

However, Alex White says this has to be balanced with the freedom of private citizens - a balance that is "a challenge in any democracy," he said.

The Justice Minister and the Garda commissioner have denied claims of "widespread snooping" on the personal records of citizens.

Communications Minister Alex White says their powers have to be strong, but also fair.

"The Gardai ... have to have access to modern methods of detection and solutions to criminal behaviour. Where you actually strike the balance is always an issue in any democracy and I think this report will help us do that," he said.