Monday, June 08, 2009

Surveillance Bill "will fail to tackle gangs"

John O'Brien - a former Detective Chief Superintendent - has an interesting opinion piece in the Irish Times arguing that the Surveillance Bill is likely to be inadequate. Here's an excerpt where he summarises his objections:
1. It adopts a generalist approach by seeking to apply this law to the entire population and not directly to criminal organisations as defined in the Criminal Justice Act 2006.

2. The threats emanate from specific and defined sources, criminal gangs and subversive organisations. The threats do not emanate from the population as a whole and arguably the population as a whole should not be subjected to these measures.

3. The definition of surveillance data is far too wide.

4. It can be construed to include all surveillance activity, including intelligence and evidential material.

5. The material received from foreign agencies could be disclosable and electronic devices fitted by them to assist Irish authorities could be rendered inadmissible.

6. There may be a loss of confidence at international level in the Irish systems which may inhibit the flow of intelligence and subsequently of evidence.

7. The rules on disclosure are unclear.

8. It is not clear if telephones and electronic mail are covered. Some of the measures may have the effect of neutralising current surveillance practices, particularly in relation to telephone intercepts and electronic mail.

9. Placing authorisations at the District Court level is unnecessarily indulgent and it exposes a greater number to possible threats from the criminal elements.

10. The authorisation process is rigid at the operational level and lacks operational reality.

11. The rules on privilege are also unclear.

12. Surveillance officers may be compromised in terms of personal safety and their identities may become known to the criminal gangs.

13. Their operational effectiveness may be impaired and, of course, they will spend much more time dealing with bureaucracy.

14. It is not clear whether individual surveillance actions will have to be authorised on a piecemeal basis and the thrust of the Bill seems to suggest that approach. This would hamstring fast flowing dynamic operations.

15. The Bill seems to miss the point that surveillance activity is, by its very definition, a secret activity and its efficiency depends on the practitioners maintaining a high level of security for their own safety and that of others.

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