Privacy fears over Garda purchase of 11 drones for training ahead of digital recording bill

Privacy fears over Garda purchase of 11 drones for training ahead of digital recording bill

An Garda Síochána has purchased nine 'task-specific capable drones' for evaluation and training purposes, with two more drones procured by the Garda National Technical Bureau, also for training.

Gardaí have purchased 11 drones ahead of a new bill which will permit their use in operations, a move which has sparked privacy concerns.

A spokesperson for An Garda Síochána confirmed that the force has now acquired nine “task-specific capable drones” for evaluation and training purposes, while a further two drones have been procured by the Garda National Technical Bureau, also for training purposes.

The spokesperson added that they are conducting ongoing trials and an internal working group has been set up to examine the “wider potential and scope" of their use. 

However, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has warned that drones pose several privacy risks and said it is opposed to the blanket use of the technology to "monitor the population".

“While there may be very specific incidences where drones may assist with urgent situations, where there is a high risk to life for example, the nature of the tech means they should only ever be used on an exceptional basis, in narrowly-defined circumstances," said Olga Cronin, tech and human rights officer with ICCL

"We would be particularly concerned that certain communities would be overly targeted by this tech.

“Any use of blanket surveillance tech must be shown to be necessary, legal, and a proportionate measure to achieve a particular aim,” she said.

Currently, legislation limits the use of drones by gardaí. However, a spokesperson confirmed that it is envisaged that the  Garda Síochána (Digital Recording) Bill will provide a legal basis for the wider operational deployment of drones by the force.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee said the new law will give gardaí the power to operate drones and make recordings to be used for 'preventing, investigating, detecting, or prosecuting criminal offences'. Picture: Leah Farrell/RollingNews
Justice Minister Helen McEntee said the new law will give gardaí the power to operate drones and make recordings to be used for 'preventing, investigating, detecting, or prosecuting criminal offences'. Picture: Leah Farrell/RollingNews

Justice Minister Helen McEntee has said the new bill will give gardaí the power to operate drones which have recording devices and these recordings would be used while gardaí are “preventing, investigating, detecting, or prosecuting criminal offences". 

While the force confirmed that the drones had been purchased, it did not respond to comment on the ICCL's concerns.

The Department of Justice said there has been "significant engagement with relevant stakeholders" including the Data Protection Commission, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, and the ICCL to ensure the new legislation will be human rights and data protection compliant. 

"A number of safeguards will be built into the legislation to ensure that any potential intrusions into citizens' private lives are necessary and proportionate and are for justifiable policing purposes," it said.

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