The Special Criminal Court has found that CCTV and mobile phone evidence is admissible in the trial of four men accused of falsely imprisoning and causing harm to the Quinn Industrial Holdings Director Kevin Lunney almost two years ago.
Luke O'Reilly, 67, from Mullahoran Lower, Kilcogy in Co Cavan, 26-year-old Darren Redmond from Caledon Road in East Wall in Dublin, 40-year-old Alan O'Brien of Shelmalier Road, also in East Wall in Dublin 1, and a fourth man who cannot be named for legal reasons have all pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Their lawyers argued that the men's privacy rights and those of the wider public had been breached by gardaí accessing CCTV footage and phone data from various locations between Dublin and Cavan on different dates.
The Special Criminal Court was also told that the evidence in this case, shows that there were no procedures in place to safeguard privacy rights, something that is required under the Constitution and European regulations.
However, in its ruling today the court referred to a number of European Court of Justice rulings and found the retention of traffic and location data is permissible for the investigation of serious crime.
Mr Justice Tony Hunt said that while the retention and access to this data does represent a serious interference in a person's digital rights it is necessary in a modern democracy for the safeguarding of national security and the investigation of serious crime.
He said the gravity of the offences against Mr Lunney places this "at the very top of any definition of serious crime".
It is quite clear, the judge said, that these crimes were committed on an organised basis, they were designed not just to "degrade and intimidate" Mr Lunney, but also to "intimidate others" to prevent them engaging in their lawful business.
Mr Justice Hunt said the data was examined within months as part of an investigation into "a serious criminal organisation" and access by the gardaí was done in "targeted, graduated and limited steps," based on "individual facts - phone number to phone number".
The court found these were "strictly necessary" and show "proportionality".
Mr Lunney has already told the court that he was bundled into the boot of a car near his home on 17 September 2019 and driven to a container where he was threatened and told to resign as a director of Quinn Industrial Holdings along with other directors.
He said his abductors cut him with a Stanley knife, stripped him to his boxer shorts, doused him in bleach, broke his leg with two blows of a wooden bat, beat him on the ground, cut his face and scored the letters QIH into his chest.
They left him bloodied and beaten on a country road at Drumcoghill in Co Cavan where he was discovered by a man driving a tractor.
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The court also found today that the gardaí used a "proper and appropriate mechanism" to access the data by applying for warrants to a court and that warrants for searches and phone records were validly issued by the district court.
Mr Justice Hunt also said the court did not accept the garda's actions represented a "systematic abuse" of a person’s rights.
He said the rights of privacy have to be viewed alongside other lawful considerations.
The defence had complained that gardaí were using CCTV for "mass surveillance of the population", but the court rejected this.
The judge said today that CCTV is in place in society, such as at airports and customs posts, and represents "a trade off in a democratic order".
Property and business owners, he said, are perfectly entitled to have CCTV for their protection and "do not operate as proxies for the gardaí".
He said gardaí are entitled to make inquiries and obtain evidence. The effective investigation of serious crime regularly requires the limitation of other rights, he said, but in this case "there was no illegality or intrusion on the rights of the accused".
The court did exclude from evidence some footage from Derrylin in Co Fermanagh and Co Longford.
Mr Lunney was in court today for the judgment.