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Leah Farrell
Civil Liberties

Irish Council for Civil Liberties demands that Gardaí not receive power to compel a password

Rights groups have also called on Gardaí to record the ethnicities of people stopped and search in order to prevent discrimination.

THE POLICE POWERS Bill must be amended to remove powers that would allow Gardai to compel a password to someone’s electronic device, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has said in a statement today.

The bill is passing through the Oireachtas currently and the non-profit recommends that gardaí would instead have to secure a separate warrant to compel a password from someone due to “An Garda Síochána’s poor record on data protection”.

A person who refuses to surrender a password for a mobile phone or other device to gardaí could face up to 12 months in prison and a fine of up to €5,000.

ICCL’s head of legal and policy, Doireann Ansbro, explained:

“We can’t have a situation where a person accused of a minor offence can be compelled to share huge swathes of information about their personal life with law enforcement. This possibility is compounded when we remember previous incidents where gardaí have leaked private, intimate material and it has gone viral.”

In 2017 then-Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys publicly apologised to the family of the late Dara Quigley, who died after nude images of her were leaked by a member of the gardaí.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris wrote a letter to Dara Quigley’s mother, Aileen Malone apologising for the “unacceptable breach of trust” by a member of the police force.

A poll by The Journal found that over 66% of people don’t want gardaí to have the power to compel a password from someone.

A statement by the Department of Justice welcomed the bill.

“A Garda will only have the power to require someone to provide a password in relation to devices found when carrying out a warrant to search a place for evidence of an offence. A search warrant can only be obtained where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that there is evidence of an offence at the place,” a spokesperson said.

“The Department has consulted extensively in the formulation of the bill, including with human rights bodies, policing oversight bodies, as well as An Garda Síochána and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.”

The bill will grant statutory basis to several practices that are currently commonly employed by an Garda Síochána, such as the right to a lawyer and special measures for children and persons with impaired capacity ( intellectual disabilities, mental illness, physical disabilities or intoxication).

The bill will also allow for suspects in human trafficking offences, who are currently subject to a maximum of 24 hours detention, to be detained for up to a week.

The ICCL has also urged that detention for questioning should never be extended beyond 24 hours without judicial warrant.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has also opposed elements of the bill and recommends that the bill should require gardaí to record the ethnic origin of a person during a stop and search.

Currently, the bill will require gardaí to make a written record of a stop and search but not log a person’s ethnicity.

“Without equality data, including special categories on racial and ethnic origin, it is difficult to measure how the implementation of Garda powers impacts people in different sectors of society,” the commission said.

The ICCL also said in its statement that gardaí should never have the power to act as prosecutors in court and that the government should “properly resource” the Director of Public Prosecutions to prevent this.

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