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'Extremely problematic': Civil liberties body calls for a halt on plans to introduce body cams for gardaí

Front-line gardaí are calling on An Garda Síochána to introduce body-cameras, which are increasingly used in jurisdictions worldwide.

Image: Shutterstock/Damien Storan

PLANS TO INTRODUCE body-cameras for gardaí are “beyond concerning” and open to potential privacy rights breaches, the Irish Civil Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has today warned. 

The rights body has said that – instead of increasing public trust and confidence – body-worn cameras could undermine progress made to reform An Garda Síochána along human rights standards.

It also disputed that body-cameras will automatically increase accountability among An Garda Síochána. 

“Mass surveillance of the population is extremely problematic,” ICCL said in a statement. 

“ICCL believes that the infringements to fundamental rights far outweigh the supposed benefits of this technology,” it added. 

“There is no good evidence for the positive impact of their use and therefore no good reason for their introduction in Ireland,” it said. 

In June, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan tabled a bill introducing body-cameras for gardaí at Cabinet. 

The proposal forms part of the implementation the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland’s report earlier this year. 

Front-line gardaí are calling on An Garda Síochána to introduce body-cameras, which are increasingly used in jurisdictions worldwide. 

Speaking in June, President of the Garda Representative Association Jim Mulligan has described the use of body cameras by gardaí as a “win-win” for the public and An Garda Síochána.

“We have been calling for the introduction of body cameras for many years, having seen their benefit in other jurisdictions,” he said. 

“They have been proven to have a positive effect in reducing levels of violence, complaints against police and in providing evidence in the criminal justice system – often speeding up court proceedings.”

‘Right To Privacy’

Body-worn cameras are an increasingly common feature of policing in jurisdictions elsewhere. Cameras are used to gather evidence and provide police with their own recordings of situations encountered on their beat.

In its submission to the Justice Department, ICCL compiled seven justifications from An Garda Síochána/Department of Justice for their roll-out, adding it found “no evidence” of international best practice standards regarding body-worn cameras.

It also said it found “no evidence” that this technology increases admissions and early guilty pleas.

In its submission, ICCL warned that body-worn cameras are “likely to give rise to constitutional concerns around the right to privacy and potentially impact on the rights to free expression, free assembly and free association.”

If used as evidence in court, footage from proposed body-worn cameras for An Garda Síochán could add unfair weight to police version of events due to being under the exclusive control of gardaí body-cameras, it added.

The rights body is calling for “an immediate halt” to the roll-out of body cameras for gardaí. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice told TheJournal.ie that the bill aimed at introducing body cams for gardaí will be published in 2020. 

Said the spokesperson: “Privacy and data protection issues are being addressed during the drafting of the general scheme of the Bill and relevant stakeholders are being consulted.

“The introduction of Body Worn Cameras to An Garda Síochána is expected to result in increased member safety and also improve the service An Garda Síochána provides to the public.”

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