A leading human rights body has suggested that a judicial inquiry may be required to investigate claims of a spying operation on the Garda Ombudsman.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties described as “highly credible” reports that the offices of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission were bugged.
The claims — revealed in The Sunday Times — followed a security analysis by a British firm which apparently found that emails, wi-fi, and phone systems in the offices had been targeted.
The commission last night confirmed that three security threats to its communications systems had been identified, but said that its databases had not been compromised.
In a belated bid to dampen speculation of possible Garda involvement, it said there was “no evidence of Garda misconduct”.
The report was issued after a two-hour meeting between GSOC chairman Simon O’Brien and Alan Shatter, the justice minister.
In initial media reports, there were claims that the equipment used was “government-led technology”.
However, security sources and information experts yesterday said such technology was relatively easily available, although it did require technical expertise to install and operate.
ICCL director Mark Kelly said the body was “gravely concerned by highly credible reports that GSOC has been subjected to covert surveillance” by an agency or persons unknown.
He said it was “deeply troubling” that the privacy and security of the body entrusted with independent oversight of the police service had been violated.
In a statement issued before the GSOC statement, Mr Kelly said: “In this State, two specific agencies, Garda Special Branch and the Defence Forces Intelligence Branch [G2] have been granted specific surveillance powers under legislation [the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act 1993 and the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009]. Since both of these agencies fall under the ultimate authority of one minister, Mr Alan Shatter TD (in his capacities as minister for justice and& equality and minister for defence), the ICCL trusts that the minister will provide unequivocal assurances that neither agency has been involved in spying on GSOC.
“In the event that it remains impossible to identify the culprits with the necessary degree of certainty, an inquiry of a judicial nature may be required.”
He said the ICCL said the current oversight of surveillance in Ireland was “inadequate”, with no direct parliamentary scrutiny.
Last night, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan expressed “grave concern” that gardaí were “suspected of complicity in this matter” by GSOC and wanted to know the basis of this suspicion. He has also asked for clarification as to whether GSOC believe a criminal offence had been committed and did the matter require investigation by gardaí.
The statement issued yesterday by the GSOC:
In the course of our operations, the Commission has always been conscious of the need for appropriate confidentiality and proper levels of security. The Commission has brought this to the attention of staff from time to time. On two occasions, since commencing operations, security experts have been consulted. A sweep of the building, and tests on the integrity of our telecommunications security, have been undertaken.
A security sweep of GSOC’s offices was conducted on the evenings of 23 to 27 September, 2013. This was conducted by a specialist UK security firm that had been recommended. The overall cost of the security checks undertaken was just under €18,000.
“As well as the general check of our building, the Commission also sought expert advice on the sorts of capabilities that exist in relation to the interception of communications, including telephones.
The investigation was completed on 17 December, 2013. It confirmed the existence of three technical and electronic anomalies.
These could not be conclusively explained and raised concerns among the investigation team in terms of the integrity of GSOC’s communications security. However, GSOC is satisfied that its databases were not compromised. Since the investigation concluded, we have been working to review and enhance our security systems in the light of what the investigation revealed.
There was no evidence of Garda misconduct. The Commission decided to discontinue the investigation on the basis that no further action was necessary or reasonably practicable.
Given the outcome of the investigation, GSOC recognised the need to reinforce the security of our telecommunications systems in the light of the specialist’s advice.
We took the difficult decision not to report this matter to other parties. We did not wish to point fingers unnecessarily and we did not believe that widespread reporting would be conducive to public confidence. We took the decision not to report in good faith.
We regret that now and this was communicated to the Minister for Justice and Equality by Simon O’Brien, chairman of the Commission, this afternoon.
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