Irish police phone tapping undermines citizens’ rights

By EDRi · May 31, 2017

An Garda Síochána, the Irish police force has fallen, yet again, under public scrutiny for privacy violations of innocent citizens. An investigation by the Irish Independent newspaper has found that members of the public had their phones tapped without proper justification.

The widespread phone tapping was revealed after a senior officer tried to highlight his concerns about the legality of the covert surveillance. According to this account, he was put under pressure to listen in on private conversations of citizens without a necessary court order. When he raised the concerns about this activity with his superiors, the authorities sidelined him. He decided to take legal action, but the State avoided full extent of the phone tapping scandal being made public with agreeing to an out-of-court settlement.

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The practice of bypassing a strict protocol on listening in on private communications of citizens seems to be in place for at least a decade. The phones of innocent members of the public have been tapped because they were confused with criminals, and warrants for phone taps were being put in place where officers provided little or no documentation to support their justification. In one case, the motivation for the phone tap appeared to be political. The Garda management has now been forced to strengthen its controls in the light of the recent revelation.

The Irish police force already suffered from a terrible reputation with regard to respect of citizen’s rights. People have suffered the invasion of their privacy, not just by phone tapping, but also by long-term abuse of confidential information from the main police database system, known as PULSE. Leaks of private data and unjustified monitoring of citizens represent serious rights violations and undermine the trust in state authorities.

This latest scandal comes only a few months after a different Garda whistleblower was subjected to false child abuse allegations. A second Garda whistleblower has also complained about being subjected to similar unfounded accusations, claiming that “there is an ‘orchestrated system and culture’ among senior management of the force that dictates the treatment of whistleblowers”.

Exclusive: Inside the murky world of phone taps and Garda intelligence (29.05.2017)

Self-regulation: Irish police database – “some sort of social media” (10.04.2013)

(Contribution by Zarja Protner, EDRi intern)