Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

Limits on powers of gardai to stop phone coverage

Mobile phone coverage can only be blocked in a specific area if there is a severe terrorist threat for a maximum of six hours.

Limits on the power to be given to gardai to force phone providers to withdraw the service have been revealed in proposed legislative powers placed before the Dail.

The measures are being fast-tracked before the G8 economic summit in Fermanagh next month. Mobile phones can be used by terrorists to remotely detonate an explosive device.

At the moment, gardai are dependant on the goodwill of mobile phone companies if they want the service shut down.

Powers similar to those being sought by the Government here are already available to the PSNI in Northern Ireland and police in other jurisdictions.

Police in Boston imposed a ban on mobile phone coverage in the immediate aftermath of the Boston marathon bomb attack to ensure other devices could not be set off remotely.

Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter told the Dail yesterday that the measures were intended to deal with serious, imminent threats to life or property.

"It is regrettable that terrorist organisations and criminal gangs are prepared to exploit any means, including advances in technology, to kill and maim.

"It is necessary, in those circumstances, for the law enforcement authorities to be given the means to counter these threats," the minister said.

A senior garda, of at least assistant commissioner rank, can seek authorisation from the minister to issue directions but must act within 24 hours of the go-ahead being given.

And a garda of at least chief superintendent rank can then direct the phone companies to shut down service in the specified area for up to six hours.

Last night, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties said the proposed measures were a proportionate response to the threats.

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