New laws could see expansion of garda use of drones 

New laws could see expansion of garda use of drones 

 Manna CEO Bobby Healy and Tanaiste Leo Varadkar TD during the launch of Manna Drones Delivery at Millfield Shopping Centre, Balbriggan. Mr Varadkar has called for 'proper safeguards' around garda surveillance operations.

Gardaí could be given the go-ahead for expanded use of drones under legislation to be published later this year.

A spokesperson confirmed that it is expected the Garda Síochána (Digital Recording) Bill will provide a legal basis for the "wider operational deployment of drones by the force", despite concerns about privacy and safety.

An Garda Síochána currently has 11 drones that are used for training, with uses limited under law. However, the Digital Recording Bill, which will expand the use of CCTV and make body-worn cameras legal, also contains provision for the expansion of drone usage.

Speaking at the launch of a drone-delivery service in north Dublin last week, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that "we need to very careful" about the use of drones for surveillance and recording, unless it is done with the "proper safeguards".

Working group

A Garda spokesperson told the Irish Examiner that an internal working group, chaired by a Superintendent Operational Support Services, is tasked with "examining the wider potential and scope to use drones to assist in various policing operations".

However, under what circumstances they will be used remains to be decided.

"An Garda Síochána is currently conducting ongoing trials with a number of unmanned aircraft systems (drones)," they said.

"Nine task-specific capable drones have been procured for evaluation and training purposes at this time. A further two (2) drones have been procured by the Garda National Technical Bureau for training purposes. Legislation currently limits the operational use of drones by the Garda Síochána, and it is envisaged that the Garda Síochána (Digital Recording) Bill will provide a legal basis for the wider operational deployment of drones in the organisation."

'Statutory framework'

A Department of Justice spokesperson said while the bill is expected to be brought through the Oireachtas later this year, the decision on whether to use drones or not would rest with the Garda Commissioner.

"The Bill is designed to provide a robust and modern statutory framework for the use by An Garda Síochána of digital recording devices to support their functions, including the investigation, detection, prevention and prosecution of criminal offences, safeguarding against and preventing threats to public safety and public order, and in matters relating to the security of the State. Part 2 of the Bill provides Garda personnel with the power to operate digital recording devices, which could include drones.

"The Department of Justice engaged extensively with An Garda Síochána, Garda oversight bodies and strategic partners during the preparation of this Bill, as well as the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties."

GDPR compliance

It said a number of safeguards will be built into the legislation and there will be full compliance with GDPR and the Data Protection Act, 2018. 

"These safeguards will include a full human rights and data protection impact assessment."

Fears over the use of the drones by gardaí have been raised by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, who warned that mass surveillance would be used against "certain communities" more often.

Solicitor Simon McGarr said that the scope of the use of drones depends on what they're being used for.

"There are two legal structures which gardaí use to process data - the GDPR and Legal Services Directive. No matter what is in the law, it cannot go further than the GDPR.

"The big picture would be that they cannot process personal data without it being necessary and proportionate and having a legal basis. Case law would measure what is necessary and proportionate — you have to have a defined purpose."

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