Labour calls for reviewof phone record powers

LABOUR has called for a review of the powers given to gardaí to access personal phone records.

It follows revelations that gardaí made an estimated 10,000 requests for access to such records last year.

Under existing law, phone companies are obliged to maintain details of every call made and text message sent for three years.

Under the 2005 Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act, gardaí can access these records with the permission of a chief superintendent, but are supposed to do so only when investigating terrorism or serious crime.

However, based on an audit of the phone companies, the Data Protection Commission estimates that at least 10,000 such requests were made last year.

Deputy Data Protection Commissioner Gary Davis told the Sunday Times: “It’s becoming a routine means of investigation, even though it was only for use in exceptional circumstances.’’

Labour last night said it was time to review the powers given to gardaí under the 2005 act.

“While there was acceptance that such a power might be necessary to fight international terrorism or organised crime, I do not believe that any member of the Oireachtas envisaged that the power would be used so often,’’ said Labour justice spokesman Brendan Howlin.

‘‘Given the extensive use by the gardaí of what should be an exceptional power, it is hard to disagree with the conclusion of the Deputy Data Protection Commissioner that ‘perfectly innocent people are now having their private records pored over’.

‘‘I strongly believe in the light of these disclosures and the concerns expressed by the Data Commissioner’s Office that there is now a need to urgently review the operation of the powers and to establish if we need to strengthen the protection available to the public against potential abuses.’’

He said the gardaí were entitled to ‘‘all reasonable powers’’ to enable them to fight terrorism and organised crime, but there had to be safeguards to ensure that such powers were not used except in the circumstances envisaged by the Oireachtas.

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