The Data Protection Commissioner is to carry out a special investigation into CCTV schemes across the State, and the potential use of other video technologies in policing, after concerns about such systems were highlighted in The Irish Times.
Helen Dixon said her office had learned of proposals to use technologies such as automatic number plate recognition cameras through media reports in recent months.
It was currently engaged in a "scoping exercise" to establish the range of issues involved, including which CCTV schemes in the State were operated by An Garda Síochána and which were community-based schemes, where local authorities are the "data controller".
The Garda Commissioner may authorise the installation and operation of CCTV under community-based schemes for the “sole or primary purpose of securing public order and safety in public places”.
Privacy concerns have been raised about schemes such as one in Duleek, Co Meath, which was rolled out last summer with more than a dozen hi-tech cameras, including ones with automatic number plate recognition.
It is also proposed that data from a “smart” CCTV scheme in 14 towns in Limerick will be linked with data from environmental and footfall sensors, and number plate recognition.
In an interview on Tuesday following the publication of her annual report, Ms Dixon said her office, now that it had become aware of the use of automatic number plate recognition, was looking at what other new technologies might be “in scope” for gardaí.
While it was not directly linked to the CCTV examination, the office would also look at the potential for the use of body-worn cameras and other types of video technology in policing here.
The commissioner said she hoped to appoint a special investigation unit in the third quarter of this year to conduct “a comprehensive and nationwide-in-scope investigation into this area”.
“We are scoping out the details of what we don’t fully understand at the moment but need to understand and want to understand, and need to have a coherent picture of in terms of satisfying ourselves that data subjects’ [individuals’] rights are protected; that there is an evidence base behind the installation of all of these schemes as well as a legal basis for them, and that the governance systems are adequate,” Ms Dixon said.
"CCTV has of course featured very strongly in our annual reports over the last few years and we had a lot of publicity around a position we adopted on CCTV in 2016 . . . in relation to local authority-related schemes, and one in particular in Dublin City Council, in relation to stills that they published of individuals that they said were fly-tipping," she added.
On that occasion the commissioner said that the processing of personal data “must be done fairly, demonstrate proportionality and not be overly prejudicial to the fundamental right of the individual to data privacy”.
The commissioner said her office had focused “very significant resources” in 2017 on driving awareness among organisations in relation to the new EU General Data Protection Regulation, which comes into force in May.
She said the focus of that regulation was on “demanding accountability from organisations in how they collect and process personal data”.