Friday 23 March 2018

Garda watchdog defends decision to snoop on journalists’ phones

The GSOC Comissioners
The GSOC Comissioners Newsdesk Newsdesk

THE garda watchdog has defended its decision to snoop on the phone records of journalists.

Responding for the first time to the revelations that communications by journalists were being monitored, the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) said that members of the public who gave information to help in garda probes did not expect to then see that information emerge in the media.

GSOC has been accessing phone records of journalists while investigating alleged leaking of information by gardai.

Writing in the Irish Times today, GSOC chair Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring and commissioners Carmel Foley and Kieran FitzGerald say that it was legislators who made the decision to make such leaks a serious criminal offence, with a possible jail term of five years.

Read more: Watchdog accesses records of 50 people in Daly probe

They added that it was legislators who granted GSOC the power to access phone records and internet data when investigating serious offences.

The article does not directly mention the case that started this controversy – when it emerged GSOC accessed the phone records of two journalists following a complaint by a friend of the late model Katy French about alleged garda leaks.

Earlier this week, Taoiseach Enda Kenny rebuked the watchdog, saying there was a difference between “this kind of incident and one where national security might arise”.

Writing in the Irish Times today, the GSOC officers say many of those who gave information to gardai concerning investigations had “overcome an understandable reluctance to get involved”, and would believe that information was to remain confidential until a possible court case.

“These people are entitled to believe this information will be treated appropriately and lawfully by gardaí,” they write.

“Members of the public do not expect to see personal information, photos or documents appearing in newspapers, broadcasts, the internet or social media. Such publication may affect a person’s good name, work, family relationships or cause unnecessary grief to a victim of crime and/or their family.”

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