However, he said he had received assurances from the judge appointed to monitor such activity the proper procedures had been observed.
Mr Ahern was responding to questions on the issue in the Dáil from Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte.
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. The Army can also avail of the act to access records.
Mr Rabbitte expressed disquiet about the fact that the gardaí made 10,000 such requests last year. He said Tanaiste Michael McDowell had informed the Dáil when introducing the legislation that it would be strictly controlled and limited to the investigation of serious crime.
“Many law-abiding citizens will be taken aback to hear that on 10,000 occasions it was necessary to invoke the act in order to combat serious crime and suspected terrorist offences.”
Mr Rabbitte said people would be surprised to realise the Army was accessing such records. He cited remarks by the Deputy Data Protection Commissioner Gary Davis who warned that innocent people were having their private records pored over.
Mr Ahern said he had recently received a report from the High Court judge appointed to keep the operation of the relevant law under review. “In his most recent report to me, the designated judge stated that he is satisfied the provisions of the legislation are being maintained and the provisions of the 2005 Act are not being used for routine garda inquiries and investigations.
“Deputy Rabbitte asked if I think the numbers sound high and I do, but I am assured in the report that the proper procedures and requirements are scrupulously observed. I do not have the figures for the number of requests made by the Army, but I assume those numbers were higher in the past for obvious reasons.”
It’s understood Mr Ahern was referring to the fact that the Army would have conducted more surveillance to counter subversive activity during the Troubles.