Gardaí investigating serious crimes will be able to capture mobile phone data relating to tens of thousands of people in particular locations under new proposals.
Earlier this month in Killarney Justice Minister Helen McEntee said the Government is working on new legislation to counter a European Court of Justice ruling that could see killer Graham Dwyer walk free from his life sentence for the murder of Elaine O’Hara.
This follows the Court of Justice for the European Union ruling in favour of the former architect in his challenge against Ireland’s data retention laws. Phone metadata played a key role in securing Dwyer’s 2015 conviction for the murder of the vulnerable childcare worker in 2012.
While it was feared the Dwyer ruling would greatly restrict the investigation of crime in the State, the ability to perform “quick freezes” will provide gardaí with additional powers to use phone data to identify and investigate suspects. The so-called “quick freeze” of data offers gardaí strong and wide-ranging options to indiscriminately capture data for use as evidence in cases or as an investigative tool.
Mobile phone operators have retained phone data for up to two years in Ireland. During the investigation of crime, including minor offences, gardaí were securing access to retained data generated on the phones of suspects and other persons of interest.
However, the European Court of Justice two weeks ago ruled this retention of data by mobile phone operators, and gardaí being able to access it, was unlawful. Under the ruling, data can still be retained by mobile phone operators and gardaí can still access it, but for shorter periods. While the reduced window will somewhat impact Garda investigations, the “quick freeze” practices are expected to bolster investigations.
Under so-called “quick capture” techniques, if a crime was committed at a public event, all the telephone activity in that area could be frozen at the request of the Garda, according to sources familiar with the technique. While most of the data generated would be related to the public with no connection whatsoever to the crime, the investigation would focus in on records from phones regarded as relevant to the inquiry.
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