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Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. File photo. Leah Farrell/
New powers

Rights group ‘strongly opposed’ to gardaí being granted facial-recognition technology

Civil liberties groups say it enables “mass surveillance”, the Minister for Justice disagrees.

CIVIL LIBERTIES CAMPAIGNERS say they are “strongly opposed” to gardaí being granted the use of facial-recognition technology, saying it poses an “extreme risk” to peoples’ rights.

Justice minister Helen McEntee plans to introduce legislation to grant gardaí new powers to allow the force to use the technology, which aims to rapidly identify criminals.

It would enable the force to carry out automated searches of video footage for suspects in criminal investigations.

Minister McEntee announced the move at the Garda Representative Association annual conference in Westport, Co Mayo, today.

“Types of crimes have changed; the fact is that technology is now involved in a huge amount of criminal activity. The gardaí need to have the resources to be able to deal with that effectively,” McEntee said.

The minister said she plans to publish the legislation in the summer months.

However, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) says it is “strongly opposed” to the technology being used by law enforcement, saying An Garda Síochána has a “poor record on data protection”.

The ICCL previously called for a ban on the police use of facial-recognition technology, arguing that it poses an “extreme risk to rights.”

“FRT [facial-recognition technology] and other biometric surveillance tools enable mass surveillance and discriminatory targeted surveillance.

“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,” the ICCL said.

McEntee disputed this view today, saying “this is not about mass surveillance”.

“There will have to be safeguards – codes of practice – in place. People’s individual privacy, GDPR issues, all of this will have to be addressed and will have to be brought forward with the legislation,” she said.

The ICCL said FRT systems have shown an inability to correctly identify faces that are not white and male, due to inherent biases.

It raised concerns about the Garda Digital Recordings Bill, which proposes to authorise Garda access to third party CCTV through a live feed in certain circumstances.

“The explanatory note highlights that it is ‘considered that this may be necessary in relation to an increase in criminal activity in a particular area where 3rd party cameras may be located.’,” the ICCL said.

“This is already deeply problematic as it could lead to general monitoring and profiling of certain areas or people, and amount to extended covert surveillance if An Garda Síochána fails to flag this surveillance with affected members of the public. The risk to people’s rights would multiply should these cameras include FRT.”

Additional reporting from Garreth MacNamee at the GRA conference in Westport.

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