The State’s alleged misuse of retained telephone data raises concerns over plans to let Gardaí use surveillance drones, according to a legal expert.
It comes as a new bill could provide a legal basis for “wider operational deployment of drones” by An Garda Síochána.
The Garda Síochána (Digital Recording) Bill will also allow for the use of body-worn cameras and mobile CCTV in Garda vehicles.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Senior Trinity Law Lecturer Dr Eoin O’Dell said drones could be an “invaluable tool in the fight against crime” but noted that there must be “proper and adequate safeguards” in place before they’re put into use.
He said he wouldn’t be overly confident about the State’s ability to follow those safeguards, given its recent conduct regarding the use of telephone data.
“We heard all about this in the context of the Graham Dwyer prosecution,” he said.
“What we have seen there is that the Department of Justice and An Garda Síochána have been entirely sanguine about ignoring European law since 2014 in the hope that they wouldn’t be told that the evidence would not be admissible in those circumstances.
“And although they were told in 2014 and in several other European Court of Justice (ECJ) decisions since, they continued with warrantless access to retained data and simply ignored what they were being told by the ECJ.”
He said proper safeguards are still not in place when it comes to telephone data, although there has been a draft bill for nearly five years.
“So, in this significant context, their recent action demonstrates that, while they pay lip service to the importance of privacy and safeguards, they have hoped they would get way with ignoring them and the ECJ has told them in the Dwyer case that they can’t.
“So, if they continue to follow that practice again, I wouldn’t be all that sanguine. On the other hand, maybe once bitten, twice shy. They have been told the importance of safeguards and maybe there will be proper safeguards in place for this purpose.”
Also on the show, Former Garda Sergeant Christy Galligan said drones would be an invaluable tool for the safeguarding and security of the public and the State.
“I think it would be an invaluable tool, but they would have to be used in a legal, proportionate and necessary and justifiable manner,” he said.
“It’s not only in relation to criminal investigations that they could be used. They could be used for missing persons. They could be used for people who are being trafficked or held in a house against their will.
“There is a whole plethora of reasons these things could be used.”
He said the right to privacy is enshrine in national law, “but it’s not an unqualified right.”
“There is no doubt that the State may make incursions into the right of privacy in accordance with the law,” he said.
“It is under the legislation which should be watertight, and I agree those safeguards must be in place in relation to those intrusions.”
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