The Daily Telegraph

Irish police get new powers to access suspects’ phones

- By Daniel Capurro

SUSPECTED criminals in the Republic of Ireland could face a €30,000 fine and up to five years in prison if they refuse to hand over the passwords to their mobile phones.

The proposed new powers – published yesterday by Heather Humphreys, the justice minister – are part of sweeping reforms of the way Ireland’s Garda police force is regulated.

The Bill includes a code of conduct for police officers and modernises and formalises a confused patchwork of existing laws and convention­s.

Officers will no longer be required to keep written copies of electronic­ally recorded interviews, for example, and the right to have a lawyer present during police interviews will be placed on a statutory footing.

The powers to demand access to PIN numbers and passwords for mobile phones and other electronic devices come as the pandemic has accelerate­d the shift of organised crime to online.

Garda sources told The Irish Times that the powers would only be used against suspected criminals who were obstructin­g investigat­ions.

Police in the UK are regularly refused access to suspects’ phones as jail time for not giving up a password is only possible for crimes relating to child indecency or national security.

Liam Herrick, from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, welcomed the publishing of the Bill, telling local media that if done right it could clear up an unclear situation.

“There are, at present, hundreds of different pieces of legislatio­n and common law standards. It provides a very confused situation for the gardaí, but it also increases the risk of interferen­ce and violation of people’s rights,” he said.

Ms Humphreys said: “Bringing [the various laws] together will make the use of police powers by gardaí clear, transparen­t and accessible.”

The Bill was a key recommenda­tion of a 2018 review into the future of policing.

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