Ireland proposes to legalise covert surveillance

By EDRi · December 3, 2008

(Dieser Artikel ist auch in deutscher Sprache verfügbar)

The Irish Government has approved the outline of a Bill which, if passed by
Parliament, will permit police to break into private property to plant
covert audio bugs and video cameras. The Covert Surveillance Bill is
intended to legitimise what is already believed to be existing practice, to
make Irish law compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights and to
allow evidence obtained in this way to be used in court. Judicial approval
will be required before this can be done, except in exceptional

The procedure to deal with cases of exceptional urgency is too lax. Under
the Bill as it stands those cases would bypass the judicial process
entirely, so that surveillance could take place for up to 14 days without
any authorisation. There must be a question mark as to whether this
provision would be constitutional if it was used to break into and bug a
dwelling. Instead, it would be preferable to deal with cases of urgency by
permitting Gardaí to commence surveillance without a judicial authorisation
but then requiring that an application be made to the District Court for
permission to continue the surveillance.

Despite its broad title, the Bill addresses only one very narrow area – the
covert surveillance of locations by devices which are physically planted in
those locations. Many other forms of surveillance – such as the use of GPS
devices to track the position of cars, the use of long range cameras and
microphones to monitor locations from a distance and live monitoring of
Internet activity – will still be entirely unregulated. As a result there
will continue to be doubt as to whether Gardaí have the power to use these
types of surveillance and as to whether the resulting evidence can be used
in criminal prosecutions.

Meanwhile, although there is some legislation regulating other forms of
surveillance such as the interception of communications, data retention and
Garda use of CCTV, that legislation has developed on an ad hoc and reactive
basis with few consistent principles applying to its use or oversight. Much
of it is also out of date, most notably the 1993 interception of
communications legislation which due to technological changes no longer
adequately protects email and other Internet communications.

Considered as a whole therefore, the wider Irish law is inadequate. Given
that many of these issues were flagged by the Law Reform Commission in 1998,
it is hard to see any justification for the failure to address them to date.
Although this Bill does provide for some improvements, it is at best a
piecemeal response which will not address similar problems with other forms
of surveillance. It is clear that the time has come for comprehensive reform
of the overall law relating to surveillance. This Bill is a good first step
towards that reform. But it is only a first step, and it would be
regrettable if the government were to continue to ignore this area until
forced to act by another highly visible crime.

Government approves covert Garda measures (18.11.2008)

Time to take a close look at surveillance (28.11.2008)

(contribution by TJ McIntyre – EDRi-member Digital Rights Ireland)