Data Protection Commissioner raises CCTV concerns with Garda

Watchdog to examine surveillance schemes and use of car number-plate recognition

A scheme described as “the most advanced” CCTV system of its kind in Ireland went live in the Co Meath village of Duleek in July. Its 14 cameras monitor Duleek and neighbouring Donore, which have a combined population of just over 5,000.

 

The Data Protection Commissioner is to examine the status of community CCTV schemes and the use of automatic number-plate recognition cameras by An Garda Síochána after it received queries about their use.

A scheme described as “the most advanced and modern” CCTV system of its kind in the country went live in the Co Meath village of Duleek in July. The €50,000 scheme, monitoring Duleek and neighbouring Donore, which have a combined population of just over 5,000, will link 14 cameras to Garda divisional headquarters, in Ashbourne, when fully operational. At least five static cameras have number-plate recognition.

The number of cameras is double that of a similar scheme in the town of Royston, in Hertfordshire in England, which was subsequently declared illegal by the UK’s data watchdog, the Information Commissioner. In early 2014 Hertfordshire Constabulary agreed to remove five of the seven number-plate cameras covering roads in Royston at six locations after the commissioner said the scheme was unlawful and excessive.

Rural crime

In Ireland there have been calls for the use of more CCTV cameras in recent years, particularly as a response to rural crime. All CCTV schemes in public areas must be authorised by the Garda commissioner. Fifty-five have been approved so far. Separately, the Garda operates 35 schemes in town and cities.

In April the Department of Justice announced new community-based CCTV grants, to help groups establish systems in their areas, but no applications have yet been approved.

Eligible organisations can apply for up to 60 per cent of the capital cost, to a maximum of €40,000. The department has allocated €1 million this year and expects to set aside a similar amount in each of the next two budgets.

The Duleek scheme was funded not by the department but through the Carranstown community-projects grant scheme administered by Meath County Council and funded by the incineration firm Indaver Ireland.

Records released under the Freedom of Information Act show that, in August, nearly a month after the public launch of the cameras, the council was still seeking additional information from the local text-alert group that applied for the grant.

This included details of some costs and confirmation that “the data protection arrangements” governing the use of the CCTV system were being handled by the Garda.

A spokesman for the Data Protection Commissioner said the office had contacted An Garda Síochána in September about “several queries concerning community CCTV schemes, namely their approval status” and the use of number-plate recognition.

“On foot of the response received from An Garda Siochána, it is the intention of this office to examine the matters raised in detail within the next month as part of our periodic scheduled engagement with An Garda Siochána,” he said.

Separately, the Policing Authority said it had been told that a revision of the Garda’s CCTV policy, which dates from 2009, was at “an advanced stage” in July 2016, but it is still awaiting a response.

‘CCTV of enormous assistance’

“We see the CCTV system in Duleek and Donore as being of enormous assistance in preventing and detecting crime in these two villages,” James Cannon, the local Garda superintendent, told The Irish Times. “We are fully aware of the need for compliance with data-protection legislation.” He said the data is retained for eight weeks.

At the launch of the Duleek scheme a local Independent councillor, Sharon Keogan, who led the project for the text-alert group, said that the area had been “blighted by crime” and that this had been compounded by Garda cuts. The cameras would, she said, make Duleek a “no-go area for criminals from now on”.

Ms Keogan has also told a public meeting that a similar scheme is planned for nearby Julianstown.