Senator John Cummins speech on Private Members’ Bill Seanad Éireann, 5 March 2021
On the 18th January this year the Irish Examiner ran a story with the headline “Waterford council reprimanded for using CCTV to monitor illegal dumping”. The article went on to say and I quote “Waterford City and County Council has been officially reprimanded for its use of CCTV to monitor public activity by the Data Protection Commissioner. The admonishment by the commissioner, which was handed down in October of last year and was carried out using its corrective powers under GDPR, concerns the local authority’s use of such surveillance technology to monitor illegal littering and dumping, and for the prevention of crime”.
My understanding is Waterford is one of at least seven Local Authorities across the country who have faced the wrath of the commissioner. It is the commissions view that the Litter Pollution Act 1997 and the Waste Management Act 1996 do not regulate the processing of personal data as required by the EU’s law enforcement directive, a parallel piece of legislation which came into force in May 2018 at the same time as the GDPR legislation.
In my opinion this is GDPR gone mad, it has essentially left Local Authorities with one hand tied behind their back in the fight against illegal dumping which everyone will agree is a scourge and I believe is an attack on society and our rights to enjoy amenities across the length and breath of this country without having to encounter what is often large scale dumping.
The Government, under the remit of the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, is in fact already addressing the issues raised by the Data Protection Commissioner, including by introducing appropriate legislation. In fact Ireland’s Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy commits Government to implementing a range of measures, including tackling the problem of illegal dumping. It states “all waste enforcement legislation will be “data proofed” to ensure that all available and emerging technologies can be fully utilised in a manner which is GDPR compliant.”
Notwithstanding the work which is ongoing by the department, I would like to compliment Senator Wall for his proactive action in bringing forward this Bill which is a genuine effort to address the data protection issues raised by the Data Protection Commission (DPC) in relation to the use of CCTV by local authorities in the enforcement of litter and waste management functions. I was happy to engage with the senator last week and engage with my government colleagues to ensure this bill wasn’t opposed. In my 11 years on the council, I always worked cross party on topics which would benefit Waterford and I will seek to do that in this house also because I’ve always said no one party or person has a monopoly on wisdom and whether it is this bill or government legislation, I am sure Senator Wall wont mind because everyone has the same goal here and that is equip Local Authorities with every possible tool to catch those who have a blatant disregard for their fellow citizens by illegally dumping in our cities, towns, villages and rural countryside.
Local Authorities mist be given the ability to use overt and covert technologies to catch the perpetrators of these offences, be that fixed CCTV cameras, drones or phones. This is a topic which drives the public mad and justifiably so.
There is no question this is a problem which has gotten worse in recent times and the lengths to which people go to in order to avoid detection would have to be seen to be believed. We are talking the removal of any material that could identify households from rubbish bins, the covering or changing of licence plates or using face coverings so CCTV is not a silver bullet, it wont solve all dumping issues but it is an essential tool in the armoury of Local Authorities.
Before I conclude I would like to pay tribute to the litter wardens who work so hard to catch the perpetrators of these offences and the outdoor staff who constantly remove waste at huge costs on a daily basis. And also to compliment the community and tidy towns groups across the length and breath of this country who have pride in their areas and keep them tidy in conjunction with councils, often in the face of a tsunami of waste.