Dublin City Council made use of unmanned drones to monitor predominantly working class areas of the capital ahead of the Halloween bonfire season, it has emerged.
The council has denied that it used those drones to monitor back gardens or other private property.
In mid-October the council distributed flyers to residents in southside neighbourhoods advising them that to hold or dispose of waste for the purpose of a bonfire is an offence, as is the storage of waste or bonfire materials in a private garden for the same purpose.
The flyer advised that fines of €150 could be issued to anyone in breach of those regulations, and stated “Dublin City Council use (sic) drone technology”. However, the note was not specific as to what purpose drones are used for in this context.
Leah Hunnewell, a resident of the Drimnagh area in the south of the city, queried the Council about whether surveillance was being conducted indiscriminately across the city or whether it was targeted on specific areas.
She also asked whether the practice was compliant with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Union’s overarching privacy law.
It has since emerged that the use of drones during this period was targeted at specific areas within the south of the city: Ballyfermot, Bluebell, Inchicore and the Liberties. Ms Hunnewell’s place of residence was not included in that list.
The Council told Ms Hunnewell that all drone surveillance carried out on its behalf is done by use of private contractor “and is fully GDPR compliant”.
It said it does not retain or store any images captured during any such exercise, and that “private residences and back gardens were not surveyed”. They added that the areas targeted are “particularly where bonfire material has been previously hoarded”.
A spokesperson for the Council told the Irish Examiner that drones were used by its public domain team in the days before Halloween, and that any surveillance conducted was “always public spaces or developer or vacant sites”.
They added that no hoarded materials were discovered as a result of the operation.
The Council declined to clarify how many drones were used, who the private contractor operating them was, or the budget was for the surveillance operation.
The Department of the Environment said that €3m was allocated to its local authority anti-dumping initiative across 2017 and 2018, with many of the resulting 280 projects involving "the purchase and utilisation of drone technology”.
Antoin Ó Lachtnáin, director with advocacy group Digital Rights Ireland, said the proportionality and necessity of DCC’s surveillance project would determine whether or not it was in compliance with the law.
“The other consideration is whether or not it’s a decent thing to be doing. Is this culturally where we want to go, where a local authority is surveilling what its citizens are doing?”