In to be under surveillance; not even reasonable

In recent years the gardaí has proposed to
expand its surveillance by increasing the use of the CCTV system, so it has the
capacity to not only record images and sounds but recognise faces through
biometric technology as well. If you are captured on a CCTV, those images and
recordings are considered to be your personal data under the provisions of the
Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003 (‘the DP Acts’), in addition to the soon to
be implemented General Data Protection Regulation (‘GDPR’). Personal data which
I had failed to mention would refer to the information that you leave behind as
it is not made or generated.

 

Traditionally, it was unlawful to use recording
mechanisms to obtain an individual’s personal data without their knowledge. Up
until now, CCTV systems were connected without a second thought to the
consequences. However, in order to comply with the Acts and the GDPR the data
controllers (i.e. the gardaí) using CCTV systems need to justify obtaining and
using the people’s personal data. Subsequently, the gardaí takes the view that
the CCTV’s are being used as a response to prevent and detect criminal
activity, which is considered to an appropriate measure and less of an invasion
of privacy. This is then said to be reinforced under section 7 of Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009,
as it allows upholds the use of “surveillance devices.” However, it is
important to note that this section requires judicial authorisation,1
not just for audio bugs but convert video cameras planted in properties as
well. Personally, I do not agree with that proportionality test, as it does not
take those who not criminals into consideration. On balance, I think then the
interest of privacy would be the appropriate measure.

 

The indication is that CCTV’s assist in the
reduction of crime, however, in practice no crime needs to be committed to be
under surveillance; not even reasonable suspicion is necessary. I could
comprehend having surveillance done on criminals but not the everyday
hard-working person. I take the view of Charles Farrier of the No CCTV campaign
group, that “CCTV cameras are not effective at solving crime;”2 at
best I would say that they are good at tracking down individuals; which is also
in itself an infringement on privacy.

 

I questioned fellow UCC students and they had
the same thought process as I did. There is nothing wrong with the gardaí doing
surveillance on criminals, but the idea of the gardaí surveying the average
citizen just seems wrong, unjust and ridiculous. The idea that the average hard
citizen should have to give up his rights, especially those that allow us
privacy, seem inherently wrong.  Many
tyrants have justified limiting the rights of its citizens for their own safety
and greater good, and as we all know have historically led to monstrous acts.

 

 I never
gave CCTV camera’s a second thought, but the more I learned about our rights to
data protection, I came to comprehend “that such schemes “come with certain
negative connotations, principal amongst them concerns that they result in
unnecessary levels of surveillance and intrusion on the privacy of individuals
and society – a so-called ‘Big Brother’ effect”.”3

 

Subsequently, it has been stipulated that “more
than 1000,000 licence plates are scanned by gardaí every day as part of a
crackdown on untaxed, uninsured or stolen vehicles.”4 I
learned that majority of the gardaí vehicles, marked or unmarked contain the
ANPR system which provides the gardaí with names and addresses, which records
and stores every motorist’s personal data. It is recording their whereabouts, whether
a crime is or is not committed. In addition, the ANPR system is not just
attached to the gardaí vehicles, but to roadside cameras as well. While the
ANPR system provides the gardaí with extreme powers of surveillance, it also
proves to be an infringement of privacy. An infringement that became more
evident when I learned that the personal data that the ANPR system collects is stored
for five years.

 

Subsequently, Section 2(1)(c) of the DP Acts
provides that a data controller should not preserve personal data for no longer
than is necessary. To hold personal data for five years is very disproportionate,
as well as, unnecessary. Especially for personal data that is collected and not
connected to any low-level crime or counter terrorism. For the 8 years that I
have been driving I never realised that my personal data is probably maintained
in a database that can be accessed by other authorities, even though I have
never done any criminal to even warrant suspicion.

 

Likewise, the gardaí hopes to begin its facial
recognition with biometrics system to identify people on the CCTV system. It is
believed to go forward without any legal foundation, taking an approach that is
conflicting to the data protection law. Thus, once again the right to privacy
is considered to be an inconvenient barrier rather than a fundamental right. I
comprehended this as the gardaí thinking they know best, while the public
concern is being overlooked.

 

I believe that our fundamental rights should
not be considered when a system is already being applied, rather it must be
taken into account at the outset. As citizens, we should feel assured that our
personal data is not being accessed or interfered with, especially without
cause.  In all cases that do not involve
criminal activity, our personal data should remain personal unless explicit
consent is given. In addition, it concerns me that there is no judicial
oversight to ensure that our fundamental rights are being preserved. Technology
evolves every day, the government, private corporations, and the gardaí more
enhanced tools to circumvent your right to privacy and access to your everyday life.
The courts reluctance to uphold the right to privacy in cases of surveillance
by the gardaí is unambiguously problematic. This reflection has opened my eyes
on how important it is to protect our personal data. In fact, going forward, I
hope to be more aware of my actions and surrounding in order to avoid any
misinterpretation by the gardaí surveillance

 

 

1 Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009 at section 5.

2 E. Edwards and K. Harris, Does Blanket CCTV Coverage Really Provide Security? (16 November
2017) The Irish Times

(date accessed: 11 December 2017).

3 Ibid.

4 C. O’Keeffe, 100,000
Licence Plates Scanned Each Day (10 April 2010) Irish Examiner
(date accessed: 11 December 2017).