Data Protection

GardaÍ Could Face Investigation from DPC Over Retention Practices

By October 28, 2022 No Comments
Freedom of Information Act

An Garda Síochána could potentially be the subject of a Data Protection Commission (DPC) investigation following reports that files are retained on people who have been cleared of producing or sharing sexually explicit images of children.

As part of a worldwide effort to crackdown on the production and sharing of child abuse material, the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) shares information about suspected perpetrators with different law enforcement agencies globally and includes An Garda Síochána.

11% Cleared of Wrongdoing

More than 21,000 referrals of such individuals were sent to gardaí by MCMEC between 2017 and 2021, with more than 11% of them cleared of any wrongdoing in 2020 alone. Despite being exonerated, however, their information is still retained by the gardaí in a segregated database for issues of quality assurance, accountability, and decisions taken by the investigating members.

An Garda Síochána additionally noted that they are bound to comply with other legislative provisions when it comes to data retention, such as the National Archives Act.

Despite these stated reasons, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has accused the gardaí of the unlawful retention of data on such persons, which includes email addresses and screen names, even after they had been proved innocent in such cases.

A letter from the ICCL to DPC states “”We believe this practice gives rise to serious data protection concerns and ICCL requests that you investigate this matter”, and has asked the DPC to open an inquiry in to the allegations.

No Reasonable Legal Basis

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Solicitor and Director of Data Compliance Europe Simon McGarr accused gardaí retaining information on these individuals indefinitely, with no reasonable legal basis for such a practice.

“They open up a file and they are still treated as files where people could be suspects and indeed where people could be viewed as victims”, he said.

“It seems an extraordinary suggestion that the gardaí would hold photographs of people, children, with the purpose of putting them in the National Archives in the future,” he added. Mr McGarr went on to say that he also doesn’t believe that the National Archives Act would call for the indefinite storing of such information.

It is Mr McGarr’s belief that once it has been determined that such issues are false positives – for example, a picture of someone’s child playing at the beach – and that no criminal investigation or file ensues, all information relating to that person should be expunged from the database.

*In contentious business, a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage or proportion of any award or settlement.*

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