Monday 18 November 2019

Data body not aware of tapes despite recent audit on force

Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes
Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes

Ed Carty

The Data Protection Commission knew nothing about the Garda taping thousands of phone calls despite only completing an audit on the force a month before the recording was stopped.

Commissioner Billy Hawkes (below), whose report on the lengthy review of garda handling of sensitive information was published last week, revealed his office was not informed about the controversial surveillance until March 19 this year.

The watchdog said callers to garda stations should have been told they were being taped and people being called by officers should also have been alerted.

And it said anyone who believes they were recorded by the force has the right to get an audio copy or transcript of the conversation.

"The matter of call recordings would not have emerged as an issue prior to or during the audit," the commission said.

The Data Protection Commission said its audit did not include telephone surveillance and that a decision on whether to investigate the garda further will not be taken until the terms of reference for a commission of inquiry are finalised.

A spokeswoman for the agency – tasked with protecting the public's fundamental right to privacy – said the scope of its review of the garda's data protection policy was based on complaints it had received and queries for advice.

She said the issue of phonecalls and surveillance on telephones was not raised as an issue prior to the audit.

The report on the review was completed at the end of February but only published by the garda last Friday as demands intensified for former commissioner Martin Callinan to withdraw his remark about whistleblowers.

The Data Protection Commission said gardai sought advice on March 19 this year on how to dispose of the thousands of phone recordings.

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