Gardaí are breaching the privacy and constitutional rights of citizens by operating a "de facto surveillance system" using CCTV from businesses, homes and motorways, a barrister has told the trial of four men accused of abducting and assaulting Quinn Industrial Holdings director Kevin Lunney.
During legal arguments about whether CCTV footage should be accepted in evidence by the Special Criminal Court, lawyers for two of the accused have said there are no safeguards in place for ordinary citizens as gardaí regularly turn up at premises and are given access to CCTV without any oversight or protections.
Michael O'Higgins SC said the benefit to criminal investigations is outweighed by the cost to society of the “permanent surveillance of citizens".
A system whereby an informal surveillance network that gardaí can access at any time without filtering might be “great for reducing crime figures”, counsel said, but the real test is whether such surveillance is “necessary and proportionate”.
He said the Garda Siochana Act prevents gardaí from using cameras as a tool for mass surveillance, so they are instead using private CCTV systems as a “proxy” that allows them to do things they are not permitted to do.
He said that if the court finds his client's rights have been breached then it is “systemic illegality”. The fault lies, Mr O'Higgins said, not with ordinary gardai but with those “higher up the line” who have failed to heed repeated warnings about using CCTV as surveillance.
A 40-year-old man known as YZ, Alan O’Brien (40), of Shelmalier Road, East Wall, Dublin 3, Darren Redmond (27), from Caledon Road, East Wall, Dublin 3 and Luke O’Reilly (67), with an address at Mullahoran Lower, Kilcogy, Co Cavan have all pleaded not guilty to false imprisonment and intentionally causing serious harm to Mr Lunney at Drumbrade, Ballinagh, Co Cavan on September 17th, 2019.
Mr Lunney has told the court that he was bundled into the boot of a car near his home and driven to a container where he was threatened and told to resign as a director of Quinn Industrial Holdings.
His abductors cut him with a Stanley knife, stripped him to his boxer shorts, doused him in bleach, broke his leg with two blows of a wooden bat, beat him on the ground, cut his face and scored the letters QIH into his chest.
They left him bloodied, beaten and shivering on a country road at Drumcoghill in Co Cavan where he was discovered by a man driving a tractor.
The court has spent several days watching CCTV that the prosecution alleges links three of the accused men to vehicles used in committing the offences against Mr Lunney.
Garda Siochana Act
Dozens of CCTV operators from businesses, shops, garages, private homes and motorway toll operations have said that they gave gardaí access to their CCTV systems without querying what the gardaí were looking for.
Mr O'Higgins, representing the unnamed accused, said there is a growing understanding of the potential value of data and the need to protect it. The Garda Siochana Act 2005 and other legislation limit how and in what circumstances gardaí can erect cameras.
Mr O'Higgins said the CCTV gathered in this case “demonstrates in the clearest and most unequivocal terms” that there is no protection or safeguard in place.
It is, he said, “the wild west,” with gardaí arriving at premises and being told, “be my guest, go through anything you want and at the end I will hand it over to you."
Mr O'Lideadha further argued that his client's and the community's privacy rights have been infringed, and he asked the court to consider whether the activity of gardaí, "breached the bounds laid down by law with regard to interference with the constitutional rights of the community, not just Mr O'Brien.”
Counsel agreed with Mr Justice Hunt that he is saying there has been a “breach of the constitutional rights of the population generally.”
The trial continues in front of Mr Justice Hunt, presiding, and Judge Gerard Griffin and Judge David McHugh.