Bill expanding drone use by Ireland’s police expected later this year

Ireland drone police

Ireland is expected to hear debate later this year on proposed legislation that would allow the nation’s police force, An Garda Síochána, expanded use of drones for surveillance and other missions that critics claim pose data use and personal privacy risks.

This digital recording bill is expected to come before Ireland’s legislators later this year, and if passed unamended, would provide police with expanded legal authority to use drones in diversified law enforcement operations. The number of craft police possess, missions in which drones are deployed, and the time frame collected data may be retained are limited by current statutes.

The bill is also anticipated to allow Irish police to use body cameras and video-capturing devices in squad cars.

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Though common – if not routine – in other countries, use of drones and other digital tech to monitor and record data in law enforcement remains controversial in Ireland. Especially sensitive in that debate is how information collected on people is stored and whether it will be used in ways that put law enforcement priorities ahead of personal privacy

A major example cited is the 2012 conviction of an accused murderer based in part on the prosecution’s use of data taken off his mobile phone. Subsequent legal challenges before higher Irish courts ruled the law on which the data seizure was based violated certain European Union statutes limiting the time such information can be retained. 

If passed, the looming bill would put Ireland on similar legal footing as many other European Union nations that permit use of drones, and data captured on them, by police. 

Though more EU countries have braved significant opposition based on privacy concerns in liberalizing drone use by police, their deployment by law enforcement forces across Europe tends to be more limited in both fleet sizes and scope than in the United States

ReadFrench law allowing police drone use ruled (mostly) constitutional 

According to an official in Ireland’s Justice Department interviewed by the Irish Examiner, the anticipated legislation permitting expanded drone use by police is part of a broader move to employ tech in law enforcement in ways already routine in other nations.

“The Bill is designed to provide a robust and modern statutory framework for the use by An Garda Síochána of digital recording devices to support their functions, including the investigation, detection, prevention and prosecution of criminal offences, safeguarding against and preventing threats to public safety and public order, and in matters relating to the security of the State,” the official said. “The Department of Justice engaged extensively with An Garda Síochána, Garda oversight bodies and strategic partners during the preparation of this Bill, as well as the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties… (S)afeguards will include a full human rights and data protection impact assessment.”

Photo: Diogo Palhais/Unslash

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