Gardaí investigating serious crimes will be able to capture mobile phone data relating to tens of thousands of people in particular locations under new proposals.
The Irish Times reports that officials are working on new legislation around the use of mobile phone data in criminal investigations in the wake of a European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling in favour of convicted murderer Graham Dwyer.
Up to now, mobile phone operators have retained data including call, text and location records for a period of up to two years – with Gardaí able to access the retained data as part of their criminal investigations.
The ECJ ruling confirms that this “general and indiscriminate retention” of the data was unlawful.
It does not rule out the retention of data entirely however – with the limited retention of data permitted for the purposes of combating serious crime and threats to national security.
The ruling also allows for the “expedited retention” or “quick freeze” of traffic and location data in certain circumstances.
On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, Solicitor TJ McIntyre, the Chairman of Digital Rights Ireland (DRI) outlined some of the ways the data could be used.
“You can imagine there is a stabbing on O’Connell Street at a certain point in time and the request will be to freeze data from the mobile phone masts within let’s say a 1km radius of O’Connell St,” he said.
“That data may then be held on to for several months while the investigation progresses and then, once individuals are identified as being of interest, their data can be looked.”
He said it is too early to say exactly what the new legislation will allow for but said Gardaí will be limited in how they use the data.
“We will have to see what the proposals actually say but the general rules on something like this is you can retain the data generally but then, before you start looking at a particular individual’s data, you have to have some reason to suspect them,” he said.
“So, if you think about it as akin to a search warrant for a house – you need to have reasonable suspicion for that case. It is not enough that you are in the vicinity of a crime.”
Mr McIntyre said the data will still be a very powerful tool for investigators, even if they are now dealing with tighter restriciotns than they have been used to.
“We can’t have something that indiscriminately targets the whole population because that has been struck down already,” he said.
“Normally, where you see mechanisms like this used, you would expect to see geographical restrictions – but that could cover a large amount of people. Cell phone towers around O’Connell could cover tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people.
“Or if you are talking about a particular location, you could potentially have a freeze around let’s say all of Dublin Airport for a day or two, notwithstanding the fact that would be a large number of people.”