|Smoke alarm claimed to have been bugged by gardaí|
AN INCREASING number of requests by gardai for permission to spy on alleged criminals and terrorists are being rejected because the operations were premature, excessive or contained inadequate information. A report on the state's covert surveillance operations by Kevin Feeney, a High Court judge appointed to audit spying activities by gardai, Customs and the military, found a small increase in the number of cases where gardai were refused permission to plant eavesdropping devices and tiny cameras to spy on people suspected of involvement in paramilitary groups and organised crime.
In one case, a chief superintendent who asked to use an audio transmitter was refused permission because the surveillance was not proportionate to the identified objectives of the operation. Applications by garda officers for surveillance warrants were turned down on the basis that the premises where the device was to be located had not been confirmed as available or appropriate.
The 2009 Surveillance Act allows gardai, the Defence Forces and Revenue Commissioners to break into homes and cars to plant recording devices and tiny cameras to record private conversations. The "product" can be used as evidence in prosecutions. Permission for the surveillance, which can last up to three months, must be granted by a district court judge.
Feeney said the number of cases where gardai obtained district court authorisation to plant devices was "a small double-figure number". The number of authorisations that were declined was fewer than 10, but up on the previous year.
The report, obtained by The Sunday Times, also noted that surveillance and countersurveillance devices can be bought by the public. The judge said the availability of such equipment was brought to his attention when gardai found a device that had been installed by an unknown third party to monitor a person they were spying on. The report makes no reference to the discovery of such equipment by people being spied upon. Security sources say several devices have been detected recently...