ICCL calls for review of safeguards on phone snooping by GSOC and Guards
- Categorized in: Justice
Friday 15th January 2016
ICCL has been following with interest the debate around the apparent accessing by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) of telephone records (including caller IDs) of journalists.
In 2015, GSOC was given enhanced powers, equivalent to those of An Garda Síochána, in relation to the interception of communications (under the Interception of Postal Packages and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act 1993 and surveillance (under the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009). It is entirely appropriate that GSOC should have powers equivalent to those of the police officers whose conduct it is charged with investigating.
However, the most recent allegations relate not to interception / surveillance but to the disclosure and retention of data, which is lawful in some circumstances under the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011. The ICCL is concerned that the precise legal basis under which GSOC might exercise disclosure / retention powers equivalent to those granted to An Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces and the Revenue Commissioners by the 2011 Act remains unclear. It would be very helpful if the Ombudsman Commission and/or the Minister for Justice could clarify, as a matter of urgency, the basis in law for GSOC to obtain and retain telephone records for the purposes of an investigation.
Of equal importance to the lawfulness of interception / surveillance / data retention powers are the safeguards that surround their use. The ICCL has been a long-standing critic of Ireland’s lax accountability regime in this area and believes that the current controversy should prompt a thorough and independent review by the incoming Government of the safeguards that apply to the use of interception / surveillance / data retention powers. The cursory examination by a judge of records presented by the agencies concerned, coupled with a post hoc complaints process is no substitute for a comprehensive oversight mechanism capable of ensuring that such intrusive powers are only used in truly exceptional cases and for the shortest possible period of time.
The ICCL would like to see a commitment to carry out such an independent and thorough review included in the manifestos of all political parties that aspire to form part of the next Government.
Emily Glen, Communications Officer