Plans to use drones to monitor illegal dumping hotspots could pose significant dangers to people’s privacy, according to the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.
New legislation is being drafted to allow local authorities to use drones and other technologies to tackle the issue.
The Government has said the proposed drone use must breach privacy and GDPR laws.
On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, the ICCL Executive Director Liam Herrick said the use of any form of surveillance technology must be “necessary, proportionate and properly regulated.”
“It is possible to do this lawfully but it needs to be very focused and very proportionate,” he said.
“For example, with things like air-sea rescues, there is a real case at the moment that there are certain things drones can do that nobody else can do. There is a clear purpose being served.
“That might also be the case with forest fires in uninhabited areas. It may be the case with some rural dumping as well.
“So, we wouldn’t rule it out but of course, at the other end of the spectrum, there are significant dangers here about surveillance, invasion of privacy and I think more generally there is a legitimate concern in society about the increasing use of surveillance tools more generally.
“Now this use is clearly a reasonable and legitimate use but we need to make sure it is not going to be used for other purposes as well and that there are not going to be unintended consequences.”
"Overuse and misuse"
He said it is important to remember the “potential for overuse and misuse” when considering surveillance technology.
“Particularly at this time of the year, people are sitting out in their gardens and when you are enjoying the privacy in the purest sense of your home, the fact that a camera might be flying over your head filming your property and filming you and your family is exactly what we need to be cautious about,” he said.
“Not just in terms of specific invasions of privacy but about what this might potentially mean in the longer term about changing the relationship between the individual and the community and business and industry and the State.”
He said clear regulations are needed to ensure officials do not overstep their authority.
“Very often we have instances where local authorities, perhaps with the best will in the world proceed with surveillance programmes – drones for monitoring people’s COVID movements around the place is one or facial recognition technology in schools is another one in recent years – with no lawful basis and without really thinking about the potential invasions of privacy and surveillance that would follow on from them,” he said.
“That is why you need law here. We need to be careful that we always choose the least invasive option available to achieve what we are trying to do.
“On that basis, drones may have some role here in more remote locations but they mightn’t be Also on the show, Labour Senator Mark Wall said illegal dumping was costing local authorities in Ireland close to €90m per year.
He said some counties are spending as much as €3m a year on clean-up costs and said the drone proposal aims to tackle “serial dumpers who are targeting our beauty spots.”
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