We use cookies to collect and analyse information on site performance and usage to improve and customise your experience, where applicable. View our Cookies Policy. Click Accept and continue to use our website or Manage to review and update your preferences.

Committee wants clarity on garda FRT use

28 Feb 2024 / policing Print

Committee wants more clarity on FRT bill

A report from the Oireachtas Committee on Justice has called on the Garda Commissioner and the Department of Justice to provide more clarity on how gardaí would use facial-recognition technology (FRT).

The call came in its report on the draft Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) (Amendment) Bill 2023, which would allow the force to use FRT.

The committee also recommended that an application to use biometric identification should be made to a District Court judge, rather than to a senior member of the An Garda Síochána.

The report said that the bill’s general scheme was drafted to allow comparisons to databases.

It added, however, that the commissioner had told the committee that “it is not our intention to run images against a database”.

“The committee believes that redrafting is needed to provide clarity,” it stated.

'Strict controls'

'Strict controls'

The report also recommended more clarity on the data sources or reference database that would be used as part of the legislation, adding that “very strict controls” should be put in place in relation to the use of additional databases.

TDs and senators also called for other aspects of the bill to be “urgently” clarified, including:

  • Whether it is the intention to provide access to databases,
  • Which database gardaí intend to use in respect of retrospective FRT,
  • The source of the database,
  • How a database would be populated if gardaí were to make their own, and
  • The criteria for adding anyone to that database.

The report recommended that a “periodic, independent, judge-led review” of all use of biometric identification, based on legislatively defined operational criteria, should take place.

Annual audit

It also backed an annual, independent audit of the use of biometric identification by gardaí under the legislation.

“This audit should include an analysis of accuracy scores, success rates, and any other legislatively defined operational criteria – including statistically significant differences in performance across race, gender, or other protected characteristics,” the report stated.

It also called on the Minister for Justice to address “ongoing” concerns about the technology’s accuracy and inherent bias.

The report recommended the inclusion in the bill of a mechanism allowing the revocation of any FRT technology, if it were found to be performing unsatisfactorily.

The committee also called for the use of FRT in any prosecution to be disclosed to the defence in advance of trial, and for clarity on what remedy would be available to those whose rights had been breached because of FRT usage.

Rights impact

Committee chair James Lawless TD said that, while it acknowledged that FRT would bring significant benefits for law-enforcement agencies, it equally recognised that this must be balanced against “the potential long-lasting and serious impacts it may have on human and fundamental rights”.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) said that the report had highlighted “serious deficiencies” in the general scheme of the bill.

Olga Cronin (senior policy officer) said: “That these foundational questions remain unanswered 21 months after the minister’s plan to introduce FRT were first announced is extraordinary.

“Face-surveillance technology is unreliable, biased, and the accuracy tests put forward to support this bill do not reflect how it would be used in a real-life Irish setting,” she added.

The Law Society’s Director General Mark Garrett set out the organisation’s concerns to the committee at a hearing last month.

A submission from the solicitors’ body has expressed concerns about privacy rights, data protection, rights to non-discrimination, and the right to a fair trial.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland