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High Court judge to report on garda use of FRT

20 Jun 2023 / policing Print

High Court judge to report on garda use of FRT

The use of Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) by gardaí will be provided for in a standalone Garda Síochána (Digital Management and Facial Recognition Technology) Bill 2023.

A High Court judge must report annually on to An Taoiseach on retrospective FRT use by An Garda Síochána, which has been approved by Government today (20 June).

Justice minister Helen McEntee also got Cabinet approval to prioritise the Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Bill 2022, which is the legislative underpinning for the use of body-worn cameras.

She stated that she accepted that there were legitimate concerns around the use of such technology. 

The decision to deal with FRT in separate legislation follows Green Party civil-liberties concerns about the technology. The Data Protection Commissioner will also be consulted once the heads of the new bill are agreed by Government.

However, the bodycams to be procured by An Garda Siochana will include FRT software, to ensure they can also be used in line with the new bill to be drafted.

Under the forthcoming bill, FRT will only be used retrospectively to search images already legally in the possession of An Garda Síochána.

It is proposed that An Garda Síochána would use those images and categories of images, which they are already legally entitled to maintain, to run FRT against, when authorised to do so.

The scraping of open-source images from social media will not be permitted, nor will the purchase of commercial databases against which FRT could be run.

The use of other public-service databases, such as the Public Services Card and passport images, by the Gardaí for FRT will not be permitted.

Retained images

Rules around how long images will be retained will be addressed in the code of practice.

Existing law already provides for the destruction of images where an arrested person is not charged or acquitted.

European Data Protection Board guidelines state that the data-minimisation principle requires that any video material not relevant to the purpose of the processing should always be removed or anonymised (by blurring) with no retroactive ability to recover the data.

Human-rights protections, such as codes of practice and data-protection impact assessments, will also be required as the force moves to procure the equipment.

Other uses of FRT will be prohibited, as will mass surveillance and profiling.

Automated decision-making will not be permitted, with only trained personnel taking the final decision on the use of the technology.


Justice minister Helen McEntee stated today that bodycams were “crucial to improving [the] safety of members of frontline Gardaí, as well as assisting in the investigation of crime”.

The minister also said that the use of controversial Facial Recognition Technology would be provided for separately in the new Garda Síochána (Digital Management and Facial Recognition Technology) Bill 2023.

She stated that the “safe and ethical” use of FRT will assist in investigating the most serious crimes that are subject to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

These include:

  • Threats to national security and critical infrastructure,
  • Homicide,
  • Rape and aggravated sexual assault,
  • Child sexual abuse,
  • Abduction, including child abduction,
  • Serious violent offences.

Minister McEntee described the technology as a “key tool”.

“As Minister for Justice, I know from my regular engagements with individual frontline Gardaí and the Garda Commissioner how valuable body-worn cameras will be for Garda members

“We see now how Gardai are often selectively filmed themselves without access to their own technology to record accurate footage.

“Body-worn cameras will also be vital to tackling crimes such as domestic violence. The first moments when a Garda arrives on the scene are so often crucial in protecting victims and ensuring that, in the event of a prosecution, they can access justice.

“Of course, we must also have the most up to date technology to allow Gardaí process what the Garda Commissioner has described as an explosion in the use of digital data in criminal investigations. We cannot continue to have an analogue police service in a digital age.”

Data-analysis tools

“Without adequate data-analysis tools, the length of criminal investigations will increase, potentially threatening public safety and delaying victims’ access to justice.

"It is imperative that An Garda Síochána can utilise modern technology with appropriate safeguards to increase efficiencies within the organisation and ensure that policing expertise is utilised in the most effective and strategic manner. That is why I firmly believe FRT is also vital to ensuring that Gardaí can do their jobs most effectively," she stated.

The new FRT bill will undergo pre-legislative scrutiny by the Oireachtas Justice Committee.

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