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Real-time facial recognition surveillance planned in Ireland, moratorium demanded

Real-time facial recognition surveillance planned in Ireland, moratorium demanded

New legislation is expected to open the door to the use of facial recognition within a range of surveillance technologies in Ireland, including CCTV cameras and police body cams, automatic number plate recognition (ANPR or LPR in the U.S.), according to reports by the Irish Times.

Backlash to the facial recognition element has been significant from civil society and academics. They find the move premature given the current stage of the EU AI Act and call for a moratorium on facial recognition technology.

An amendment to the Garda Síochána (Digital Recording) Bill (Garda Síochána being the National Police), expected in the autumn after further scrutiny by government, will clarify the law in light of national and European Union legislation such as GDPR for these technologies to be used with face biometrics. It could be enacted by the end of the year.

Body-worn cameras and ANPR can already by used by the gardaí (police), but a lack of clarity in deployment has caused confusion. There have been several reprimands for breaches of the law, such as ANPR in Limerick last year.

Facial recognition for CCTV in both its live and retrospective forms is on its way, reports part of the Irish Times’s coverage. The technology will be able to identify and track people across cameras in real time, although sources said this would only be used for matters of national security or immediate threat to life.

Retrospective software will save thousands of man hours in trawling through footage and the main part of the new legislation is to enable this. The Irish Times reports it is not clear if facial recognition will be used with police body cams.

Further reporting finds that other legislation allows for further use of cameras to tackle illegal dumping.

Civil society groups have raised concerns as to whether adequate privacy safeguards are in place and police have stressed that cameras are only partially effective: good at reducing crime in a specific location, but not for reducing the incidence of violent crime.

The Deputy Data Protection Commissioner says that the technologies will not be used simply because they are available. Projects already earmarked include monitoring rural roads.

The majority of complaints to the Data Protection Commission are for private use of cameras around houses and gardens.  Dash cam use could also fall foul of the law, in part down to how any footage is used or shared.

Civil society demands moratorium on facial recognition

Opponents of the potential use of facial recognition have been vocal in their criticism. A group of 52 experts including staff from seven universities and 12 NGOs wrote an open letter, published in the Irish Times, detailing their concerns and calling on the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee to impose a moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology (FRT) for law enforcement.

The group acknowledges that “public safety and national security can sometimes supersede privacy rights, the intrusions of policing FRT surveillance are wholly unnecessary and disproportionate. There is a danger that the use of FRT will have significant chilling effects, altering how people use public and online spaces.”

They share the view that just because the technology is available does not mean it should be used or trusted. It is not ready, but future iterations could be even more dangerous:

“Scientists agree that the technology is simply not advanced enough and does not live up to the claims of its developers. However, even if accuracy were to improve, because the technology can be deployed indiscriminately, it risks increasing the problem of over-policing in areas with marginalised groups, leading to disproportionate incrimination, racial and minority ethnic profiling, and derailing of people’s lives.”

The group finds the amendment to the bill premature while the EU’s own framework for the use of AI is still not ready: “We question why the government is rushing to legalise this very risky technology at the committee stage, thereby bypassing the usual democratic opportunities for consultation and robust debate?”

Ultimately, the letter finds that there is no safe way to introduce FRT for policing and the group concludes: “We ask that minister McEntee choose the safest approach for Ireland and install a full moratorium on policing FRT.”

Academics included professors in law, digital policy, computer and social sciences. NGOs covered sectors such as immigration, gender and civil liberties, and included the executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, Colm O’Gorman.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has begun a campaign for people to also write to the minister to say they do not consent to be captured and processed by FRT surveillance. The Council is joining other NGOs around the world in demanding a broader ban on the technology in public places.

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