Emerging story could unmask Garda surveillance practices

Investigation has led to Garda accessing journalists’ telephone activity

The value to the Garda of mining data one even one phone in an inquiry is significant. Photograph: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

The value to the Garda of mining data one even one phone in an inquiry is significant. Photograph: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

 

When it emerged in the early 1980s that journalists’ phones had been tapped, a fierce political and policing storm ensued.

A month after the news broke in December 1982, the garda commissioner Patrick McLaughlin and deputy commissioner Thomas Joseph Ainsworth retired.

And 10 years later Seán Doherty, the minister for justice at the time of the scandal, revealed on RTÉ that taoiseach Charlie Haughey had authorised the tapping.

Haughey was taoiseach again when Doherty made his remarks and was forced from office under pressure from the minority government, the Progressive Democrats.

The journalists whose phones were tapped – Bruce Arnold, Geraldine Kennedy and Vincent Browne – secured settlements. Telephone and surveillance technology has moved on hugely since then. The value of mining even one telephone now is incomparable.

In the case of the officer who has had his phone mined as part of an ongoing criminal investigation, those who sanctioned the mining knew what they would find. It would yield details of who the officer was calling, what messages he was texting them and how frequent this activity was.

Those who approved the mining knew they would find a huge volume of text messages and call details generated by journalists who contacted him during the period he was sanctioned to deal with the media.

The journalists’ phones may not have been monitored or tapped, but the mining would still yield significant information.

The current investigation was started in an effort to establish if he confirmed two Roma children were taken from their families after bogus concerns were expressed about their hair and eye colour.

It has, bizarrely, resulted in a very large volume of journalists’ telephone activity being accessed by the Garda.