Officers seek details if needed

Telecom companies have assured the public that law officers are only seeking access to data on customers when it is necessary for investigations.

Figures supplied by the Department of Justice show there were, on average, 41 requests to access phone or internet records every day in 2010.

This was a 32% rise on the same figures for 2009. Within that, there was a 200% rise in the requests for files on internet traffic.

ALTO is trade representative for eight independent telecommunications providers including BT Ireland, O2, Verizon, and ESB Telecom.

Its chairman, Ronan Lupton, said a memorandum of understanding was drawn up with state agencies to establish how information could be requested and delivered.

Mr Lupton said that individual gardaí or soldiers would not be demanding records from phone providers on an ad hoc basis.

“We will know the individual that is making the request,” he said.

The second representative organisation, the Telecoms and Internet Federation (TIF), said it does not disclose the nature of the requests its members received because they were sensitive in nature.

However, it said: “Clearly, there have been costs incurred by the industry in the retention and retrieval of data.”

Mr Lupton said there was an outstanding concern about the length of time records that have been requested should be kept.

Ordinarily phone records are destroyed after two years and one month. Internet records are deleted after a year and one month.

However, there has been no firm guidance on what happens to information that is retrieved for policing purposes. Between 2008 and 2010 there were more than 40,000 records requested by gardaí or the Defence Forces.

Mr Lupton said because criminal investigations can take time, and in some cases could end up on appeal with the higher courts, data cannot be destroyed right away.

He said the investigators may often be waiting for direction from the DPP. However, there was nothing in the law to outline when retrieved records are deemed redundant.

The Department of Justice figures show that, despite much of the debate on data retention focusing on the length of time information is stored for, the requests are mostly for very recent activity.

By and large, the files sought are for data generated in the previous three months. In the case of mobile phone records, 4,200 of the 5,758 details retrieved in 2010 were less than three months old.

The operation of the Data Retention Act has been monitored by Mr Justice Iarlaith O’Neill, who was appointed as a watchdog by the Government. In his most recent report, he said there was nothing to suggest the power had been abused.

A year earlier, he pointed to a case in which a female garda had improperly accessed records of her boyfriend to track his movements. This was the subject of criminal and disciplinary proceedings.

In his 2011 report, Mr Justice O’Neill flagged concerns about the fact the justice minister was the ultimate arbitrator of requests and the defence minister was responsible for requests made by the army.

Since the Cabinet reshuffle in 2011 this has been the same person, Alan Shatter. To fix this some functions have been transferred to the Department of the Taoiseach.

For more in this special investigation, click here.


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