Sunday 22 October 2017

New laws will make it harder for gardaí to snoop

Dáil Éireann. Stock picture
Dáil Éireann. Stock picture
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The Government is to introduce legislation to make it more difficult for gardaí, the Garda Ombudsman, Revenue and the Defence Forces to snoop on the phone and internet records of the general public.

The measures will make it tougher for these bodies to request such information and introduce significant protections for citizens.

The move is expected on the back of a report by former chief justice John Murray, details of which are set to be discussed by the Cabinet today.

Mr Murray was appointed by then justice minister Frances Fitzgerald in January 2016 as controversy raged over revelations the Garda Ombudsman had accessed the phone records of journalists.

He was asked to examine the balance in Irish law between investigative bodies using their statutory powers and the important freedom of journalists to pursue legitimate matters of public interest, as well as the basic rights of people not to have their personal information improperly disclosed.

Originally he was due to report within three months. However, his report was delayed following a European Court of Justice ruling that the mass retention of data was illegal.

It was eventually delivered in April and subsequently referred to the Attorney General.

At present, gardaí of chief superintendent rank and above can request records from a telecommunications provider. The same can be done by a Garda Ombudsman commissioner, a Revenue principal officer and a Defence Forces colonel.

Under the 2011 Communications Act, such records can be sought for the prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of a serious offence.

This is defined as an offence carrying a prison term of five years or more. They do not have to get judicial approval. Gardaí can also make a request if they believe it will save a life.

Irish Independent

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