The scheme of the proposed Garda Powers Bill was brought to national attention thanks in no small part to the claim that failure to provide a password to an electronic device to Gardaí under warrant will itself constitute an offence, among other things.
It is easy for us to come to the conclusion that such powers of compulsion are necessary for the maintenance of law and order against criminals involved in the drug trade, yet we must be vigilant and consider the broader scope of these powers.
Already the Courts have found that journalistic privilege does not exist as a legal defence, as part of Garda investigations into the events in Strokestown in 2018 where it was alleged republicans had forcibly ejected loyalists operating under a private security firm on behalf of KBC Bank.
Following on from the ANOM/Encrochat controversies and their devastating effects on organised criminality in Europe, the question arises as to whether such invasive powers are truly necessary – and if not, what are their uses? Do Gardaí truly believe that encrypted devices will be as central to the criminal underworld as they have been now that every criminal knows not to speak openly on devices?
One ulterior use, certainly, will be in targeting political dissidents, irrespective of what political stripe we believe ourselves to belong. According to Conor Gallagher, the Gardaí are already happy enough to consider us to be one homogenous bloc worth repressing: “In June, Europol also warned of a marked increase in far-right activity in Ireland, adding that “known criminal elements have been identified as affiliated with right-wing protests. According to Garda sources this referred to former dissident republicans, drug dealers and burglars.”
In delimiting the right to privacy and making one criminally liable for maintaining omerta, one must assume that the Executive believes the benefit outweighs the cost. Could such a shift towards a “State of Affairs” offence really be called necessary in order to target a handful of criminals? Or is this power of compulsion to be used in broader scopes? Will journalists, or political dissidents, be the subject of these same powers?
If this new offence is to be justified, it must be assumed to be efficacious to employ it. One assumes that it will be used to great extent to put pressure, not just on criminals, but also on political dissidents to turn tout.
As the same legislation intends to give Gardaí the power to forcefully take a finger-print (under Head 52), one queries whether Gardaí may be considered “reasonably justified” in forcibly gaining access to an electronic device where such can be accessed by biometric lock? It certainly isn’t much of a leap.
I prefer PINs to biometric locks because I distrust Google, Facebook and Apple. I suppose what’s one more to that list?