A Cheann Chomhairle, Deputies, I move that the Bill be read a second time.
I am delighted to introduce the Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Bill 2022 to the House and I look forward to hearing the contributions from Deputies today. As Deputies will be aware, this Bill is aimed at providing a robust statutory basis for the operation of recording devices by An Garda Síochána.
An Garda Síochána play a vitally important role in our society. They are on the front lines every day, keeping people safe and serving our communities. We know that they do this at great personal risk to themselves. I would like to take this opportunity to condemn in the strongest possible terms all recent attacks on members of An Garda Síochána and I am sure I am joined by every member of this House when I say that we must do everything in our power to prevent and discourage such attacks.
We have seen a number of incidents in recent weeks where Gardaí have been seriously injured. I am sure we all absolutely condemn these incidents.
But we have also seen threatening behaviour from people who are intent on sowing division in our society.
They have not only intimidated and threatened people who are seeking our help, they have, in some instances, sought to intimidate and threaten the Gardaí who are protecting all of our communities.
This will not be tolerated.
Our Gardaí will always have our full support.
And with this legislation, and the introduction of body worn cameras, Gardaí will be able to gather evidence of such thuggish behaviour – and secure convictions.
In the modern, fully digitalised society, criminals, and especially organised crime gangs, have access to increasingly sophisticated digital tools to carry out their objectives.
It is of crucial importance that An Garda Síochána have access to the latest technology to counter such challenges. A modern police service simply must have effective and up-to-date digital tools in order to keep our communities safe and also to protect themselves from those who would do them harm. The principle objective of this Bill is to provide An Garda Síochána with such tools.
As Minister for Justice, I cannot stand over a situation where we do not equip An Garda Síochána with what they need – not only to tackle criminals, but to keep pace with what are common policing practices worldwide.
Policing services across the world have gained significant benefits from the introduction of these technologies and people will have seen their effective use in fighting and solving crime in other jurisdictions.
One of the key features of this Bill is the introduction of body-worn cameras. The Garda Commissioner and Garda representative bodies have long called for the introduction of body-worn cameras. This technology has the potential to deter attacks on Garda members and, where attacks do occur, it can provide strong evidence to bring perpetrators to justice.
For example, I know from speaking to frontline Gardaí that the first moments after they arrive at the scene of domestic abuse are key to gathering evidence which can then be used to protect the victim and ensure the perpetrator is brought to justice.
As our road network improves, so does the ability of criminal elements to move widely, swiftly and evade detection. The Bill enhances the circumstances in which Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) may be used by An Garda Síochána. By linking in to the ANPR network of certain bodies such as the NRA, we will ensure that timely data is made available to Garda investigations.
This could be of significant benefit to Gardaí when, for example, they may be trying to track down a vehicle they suspect was used in a serious crime, or which could be carrying suspects – or even victims whose lives maybe in danger.
ANPR allows An Garda Síochána track the movement of vehicles, potentially preventing crime and saving people from serious harm. Everyone in our communities is entitled to go about their business in confidence and without any form of harassment. CCTV schemes can assist An Garda Síochána in ensuring that that entitlement is fully enjoyed. CCTV schemes have long played a key role in preventing crime and protecting communities and businesses.
I want to emphasise my respect for the right to privacy of all our citizens but I am sure I am joined by my colleagues across the House when I say that I am of the firm belief that criminals do not have a right to privacy such that it can aid them to evade investigation, arrest or prosecution.
An Garda Síochana should not have their hands tied behind their back when it comes to fighting crime or when it comes to detecting crime and putting criminals behind bars
It’s important there are safeguards; it’s important that people’s privacy is protected; it’s important that people’s personal data is protected.
But, at the same time, we need to make sure that there’s no ability for people, criminals in particular, to hide behind that.This Bill will deliver on two important commitments in the Programme for Government:
1) to implement the recommendations of the Report of the Commission of the Future of Policing, which called for the use of body-worn cameras to enhance the front line capability of the Garda Síochána, and
2) to extend the powers governing Garda use of CCTV and Automated Number Plate Recognition (also known as ANPR) to help prevent crime and prosecute those involved in criminal activity.
The Bill is divided into 9 parts and I would like to briefly outline the key provisions.
Part 1 sets out the key definitions of the Bill including “recording device” which is necessarily broad in order to future-proof the Bill and includes devices capable of recording or processing records.
Transitional arrangements for existing Garda or Community CCTV are set out in section 7. A period of up to four years to transition to the new arrangements is provided for and will give ample time for the new process to become established and ensure CCTV schemes are GDPR compliant going forward.
Part 2 of the Bill deals with the use of recording devices generally by An Garda Síochána in public places, places where they are invited or permitted to be. This includes the use of recording devices on vehicles, aircraft and on Garda canines. Since the definition of a recording device is broad, it would allow, amongst other devices, for recording from body worn cameras, cameras, smartphones, tablets, dash cams and camcorders.
Policing organisations around the world have found that body worn cameras can help improve front-line capability with the accurate recording of incidents, expedite analysis, enhance situational awareness, and protect police from harm. Where body worn cameras, are in use, there is a requirement that a visible indicator clearly displays that it has been switched on.
Part 3 will give An Garda Síochána the power to use ANPR for other policing and security functions. By designating certain bodies to transfer, on an ongoing basis, the ANPR records they create, it will provide An Garda Síochána with access to a range of ANPR cameras in strategic locations. The three bodies named are:
- daa plc (Dublin and Cork Airports);
- Dublin Port Company; and
- The National Roads Authority (which has a network of ANPR cameras along the motorways in Ireland,
and other bodies can be designated at a later date, if necessary.
Use of ANPR for “focussed monitoring” of a vehicle is provided for and will allow the Garda Síochána to monitor a vehicle for up to three months where it is related to an arrestable offence, or to a matter relating to national security. The use will have to be justified and approved by a superintendent or higher, and any continued “focussed monitoring” beyond three months will have to be authorised by a judge of the District Court.
Retrospective searches of ANPR data will also be permitted for specific purposes, and can be approved by a Garda of the rank of sergeant or higher
Part 4 addresses an outstanding recommendation from the Fennelly Commission of Investigation, which voiced concern over the legal basis for recording of both emergency and non-emergency lines by the Gardaí.
Moving to Part 5, thisprovides for a new authorisation process for CCTV schemes. Authorisations may only be granted to Garda personnel or to local authorities and these authorisations will have expiry dates. That is not to say that community groups can no longer be involved in the process. It is a priority for me that they should continue to have a role.
This will include an important role for Community Safety Partnerships, which will develop Community Safety Plans, with strong local input.Any future amendments or additions to a CCTV scheme would have to be notified to the Garda Commissioner who would determine whether a new authorisation is required. Deputies will be aware of the concerns raised by the Data Protection Commission about the current arrangements. This Bill will put more controlled arrangements on a firm statutory footing.
Part 6 will give a power to the Garda Síochána to process live feeds of third-party CCTV such as those belonging to private shops, venues or stadiums with judicial approval or, where the access is required for less than 72 hours, with internal approval from a superintendent or higher.
This Part, however, will not prevent An Garda Síochána from viewing third-party CCTV where the third party has freely allowed them to do so. The Data Protection Act, allows a third party to share data with An Garda Síochána where it is for law enforcement purposes.
Part 7 provides for the Garda Commissioner to authorise the installation and operation of CCTV in Garda premises for the safeguarding of people or property, and for preventing, investigating, detecting, or prosecuting criminal offences. This includes private areas of Garda premises such as custody suites and temporary structures, and places the use of CCTV in Garda Stations on a firm statutory basis.
Part 8 sets out that codes of practice will need to be drafted by the Garda Commissioner for Parts 2 to 6 of the Bill. The codes of practice will be important in setting the standards and procedures under which Garda personnel will operate recording devices. These codes will outline requirements in relation to storage, access, retention, deletion, and data subject rights.
In the interests of transparency, the draft codes will be made publicly available by the Garda Commissioner so that representations can be made, and there will be numerous bodies, including the Data Protection Commission, that the Commissioner will need to consult during drafting. The codes must be approved by Ministerial Order and the final text of the code will appear in the Order declared.
Deputies should note that retention periods for recordings and data captured under this Bill will also be set out in the codes. Retention periods will follow international best practice.
And finally, Part 9 relates to miscellaneous provisions, these include provisions relating to the admissibility of evidence, the review of Parts 3 and 6 by a designated judge of the High Court, and provides for an amendment to the Garda Síochána (Surveillance) Act 2009.
A Cheann Chomhairle, before I conclude, I would also like to speak briefly about the amendments that I intend to bring at Committee Stage. As members will be aware, I intend to bring a report to Government on the use of facial recognition technology by An Garda Síochána.
Facial recognition technology (FRT) has potentially transformational benefits in relation to certain specific areas of police work, in particular retrospectively examining CCTV which is in the possession of An Garda Síochána. The accurate and efficient identification of suspects and equally, the elimination of individuals from enquiries are key pillars to ensure that An Garda Síochána meets its statutory obligations. The ability to automate searches on legally held images and footage would allow the organisation to operate effectively and efficiently. The current process of manual searches, which potentially involves a team of Gardaí manually going through CCTV for months to find a short few clips which may be relevant to an investigation, is outdated and inefficient. This is particularly the case where time is of the essence in an investigation, such as in a murder investigation, or where there is a missing person or child abuse. It is in the interests of all parties not least the victims of crime, to have criminal investigations pursued as effectively and rapidly as possible.
The circumstances and environment in which facial recognition technology would be used are limited to very specific use cases which are, in my view, completely justifiable. The Garda Commissioner and staff have made a compelling case for the use of this technology in certain limited circumstances.
Retrospective facial recognition technology would aid the identification of suspects who are suspected of having carried out an arrestable offence. A striking example would be Garda work in combatting child sexual abuse online. As things stand, Gardaí are forced to review what could be hundreds of thousands of the most harrowing images or footage of these crimes. Should facial recognition technology be eventually included in this Bill then Gardaí will be able to utilise that tool in order to quickly identify both victims and perpetrators.
Ceann Comhairle, I appreciate there are different and genuinely held views on this issue in this House, and indeed outside it.
That is why, in the coming weeks, I will engage further with colleagues in government and others on Facial Recognition Technology.
The central theme of the Bill is that any proposed use of a particular technology must be necessary and proportionate. That approach would continue with the proposed amendments with any inclusion of facial recognition in the Bill being subject to considerable safeguards and oversight. This would include judicial oversight over the operation of this technology, a strict prior approval mechanism for its use and Garda personnel remaining responsible as decision-makers meaning that there would not be any ‘machine decision-making’.
Data protection impact and human rights impact assessments will be required and just like other crucial aspects of this Bill, any inclusion of facial recognition technology would be subject to a code of practice so as to ensure transparency as to the procedures involved in any use of facial recognition technology.
One final point that I feel is important to make is the place of victims in consideration of the inclusion of facial recognition technology. This government has placed an emphasis on ensuring that the voice of victims is heard throughout the Irish criminal justice system. I believe very strongly that the inclusion of these amendments would be an important aide to victims in furthering investigations as quickly as possible.
In conclusion, a Cheann Comhairle, this Bill will provide transparency to us all as to the standards and procedures the Gardaí must follow when using recording devices under this Bill.
The tenth principle of the Commission of the Future of Policing in Ireland Report, is that policing must be innovative, adaptive and cost effective. In the current environment, we need An Garda Síochána to have the tools and resources to combat crime, and to fulfil their primary duty, protecting the public. There are compelling reasons why they should be allowed access to technology, and there are strict requirements under law, to introduce clear and sufficient safeguards around its use. If we do not provide An Garda Síochána with these tools and technologies, we may well become a target for criminal gangs who will exploit this in order to operate more effectively from here.
I am looking forward to hearing your contributions today and I commend the Bill to the House.