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Doubts expressed on garda use of facial recognition tech

25 May 2022 / technology Print

Misgivings about garda use of facial-recognition tech

The Minister for Justice has denied that enabling garda use of facial-recognition technology (FRT) in criminal investigations will bring about mass surveillance.

GDPR safeguards will protect individual privacy, she told gardaí at their annual conference in Westport, Co Mayo, this morning (25 May).

FRT will speed up the investigation of certain crimes, such as child abduction, child sexual abuse and murder investigations, she claimed.

Mistaken identity

Minister McEntee also claimed that FRT can protect the innocent and pinpoint cases of mistaken identity.

The minister will ask for Cabinet approval to include facial-recognition measures as committee stage amendments to the forthcoming Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) bill, which is expected to be enacted by the year-end.

The proposed legislation will also allow for body-worn cameras for gardaí, as well as provisions on CCTV and automatic number-plate recognition.

However, Oireachtas Committee on Justice chair James Lawless has stated that public consultation is essential before body cameras or FRT go ahead.

Speaking on RTÉ, he cited a British Metropolitan Police report, which found that 80% of people were incorrectly identified using FRT, adding that there must be human intervention if facial recognition is used.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has already come out strongly against the use of the technology in law enforcement and in public spaces, and has called for a ban on its use by police forces.

The ICCL also said it would be particularly concerned about the move to authorise FRT for An Garda Síochána "given their poor record on data protection".

“This is because of the extreme risk to rights posed by FRT. A person's face is permanently and irrevocably linked to a person’s identity. Our position aligns with a wider European movement to ban the use of FRT by law enforcement,” the ICCL said this morning.

'Neither necessary or proportionate'

Neither An Garda Síochána nor the Department of Justice has demonstrated that using FRT is either necessary or proportionate – a legal requirement under human-rights law, the ICCL stated.

“FRT and other biometric surveillance tools enable mass surveillance and discriminatory targeted surveillance,” the ICCL says.

“They have the capacity to identify and track people everywhere they go, undermining the right to privacy and data protection, the right to free assembly and association, and the right to equality and non-discrimination.

“FRT systems are known for their inability to correctly identify faces that are not white and male, due to inherent biases,” the statement continues.

The bill currently before the Oireachtas is also “deeply problematic”, in that it proposes to authorise garda access to third-party CCTV through a live feed, the ICCL has said.


This could lead to general monitoring and profiling of certain areas or people, enabling covert surveillance, the ICCL believes.

“The risk to people's rights would multiply should these cameras include FRT,” the ICCL says.

ICCL strongly opposes the use of such technology, and has called for an outright ban on biometric surveillance in public spaces, citing numerous US cases of wrongful arrest.

The European Data Protection Board and European Data Protection Supervisor have also made a joint call for a ban of data processing in relation to:

(1)        Remote biometric identification of individuals in publicly accessible spaces,

(2)        AI-supported facial recognition systems biometrically categorising people into clusters according to ethnicity, gender, political or sexual orientation,

(3)        Use of facial-recognition or similar technologies to infer emotions,

(4)        Processing of personal data in a law-enforcement context by mass ‘scraping’ of photographs accessible online.

No legal basis

ICCL also pointed to the recent statement of the Data Protection Commission’s Dale Sutherland, who told the Oireachtas Justice Committee that the bill provides "no legal basis for the processing of special-category data in CCTV or other smart-camera recording systems that support capability to profile automatically, or recognise automatically, and track individuals such as [through] the use of facial-recognition technology".

This means the minister would require new legislation or significant amendments to the bill to give effect to her stated intention, the ICCL believes.

“The ICCL will strongly oppose any such proposals,” it said.

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