Under the law in Ireland several agencies are completely within their rights to place you under covertsurveillance with only the permission of what is referred to in the legislation as a “Superior Officer”.
In lay man’s terms that means that some guy or gal who is a colleague or a friend of the guy or gal looking to place you under surveillance is allowed to grant the surveillance request.
And what one wonders are the qualifications of these “Superior Officers” to assess the intersection of the human and Privacy rights of Irish citizens versus random and highly intrusive surveillance requests.
The answer is that we do not know because no one will respond to questions on the issue requested via the The Freedom of Information Act 1997 (FOI) as amended by the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Act 2003 which supposedly obliges government departments and a range of other publicbodies to publish information on their activities.
There are several acts of law in Ireland that allow for the issue of serious and intrusive search and surveillance warrants by possibly unqualified individuals who serve in the very organisations seeking permission for the warrants.
This same “buddy” system of signing off serious warrants internally within the Gardai without recourse to external oversight was previously highlighted in the Section 29 warrants controversy surrounding an appeal a few years ago by radical Islamist Ali Charaf Damache.
After being arrested for conspiracy to murder, Damache’s house was searched by Gardaí on foot of a warrant signed by a Garda Detective Superintendent who was not only overseeing the investigation but also attended the search that he had issued the warrant for.
The supreme court ruled in that case that a search warrant could not be issued by a member of the Gardaí who was involved in the investigation of the same offence. The court held that if one of the investigating Gardaí issued the warrant then no independent decision-maker had a role in the issuing of the warrant and therefore this breached the constitutional right to the inviolability of the dwelling.
However, it was still ok to run down the road to a different Garda station and have some “Superior Officer” there sign off the warrant. In Ireland this is regarded as an improvement. In reality it is the same thing wearing a slightly different hat.
The fact that the legislation at that time in the form of the Offences Against the State Act gave the power for the issue of a search warrant to the Gardaí with no external oversight potentially rendered the processopen to wholesale abuse.
But we will never know what level of abuse took place or takes place because the government in Ireland and the agencies of the State refuse to publish statistics on the basic process let alone information on where catastrophic errors or abuses of these powers have led to miscarriages of justice, wrongful imprisonment or breaches of civil liberties.
The lack of oversight and reporting on the use of these powers within the Irish state is astonishing. Like many other things in Ireland when it comes to the people’s right to know what their government is doing – it is met with patronising, non-specific responses that repeatedly quote justification for stonewalling the non-disclosure of information or even basic statistics as being justified by “national security” concerns.
Part 2 is “State Surveillance in Ireland Part 2: Establishing Credibility & Demonstrating A culture of Silence”