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UN Human Rights Committee expected to question Ireland’s plans for facial recognition

Civil rights group states Data Protection Commission’s failings have allowed surveillance as ‘default business model’
UN Human Rights Committee expected to question Ireland’s plans for facial recognition

Irish officials may be questioned over the country’s plans for facial recognition technology for surveillance during a session with the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva this week. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has submitted a Shadow Report on what they determine as gaps between the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the reality in Ireland, plus recommendations to rectify them. The group also blames Irish authorities for failing to uphold GDPR, thus allowing surveillance to remain business as usual for digital companies worldwide.

The ICCL report, an alternative to the report submitted by the Irish state, is endorsed by 37 organizations and has identified gaps across areas such as the right to a fair trial and freedom from torture, as well as three breaches involving police surveillance and six across data protection.

The UN Human Rights Committee meets every four years and countries are invited in turn to defend their human rights provision. Ireland has not been summoned for any extraordinary reasons. The Committee can make recommendations to the nations which present their records. The Irish Times reports that the Minister for Children, Roderic O’Gorman, will head the national delegation. The ICCL sees sending such a senior official as a positive sign.

Just submitted, the ICCL report was drafted in March 2022, since when the Irish government has proposed an expansion of powers for the use of facial recognition technology. The development requires an amendment to the Digital Recording Bill and would allow for multiple uses of the technology in CCTV and police body cams as well as vehicle license plate recognition.

The proposals prompted an open letter from civil society demanding a moratorium on the use of FRT. More recently, the Health Minister has expressed concern over the basis of the proposals.

Shadow report: Irish authorities ill-prepared for further powers, cause of global surveillance

The ICCL report criticizes both the Data Protection Commission (DPC) and police (An Garda Síochána) over their current practices and interaction: “We note deeply concerning findings by the DPC that suggest compliance with data protection law by AGS is exceptionally poor, meaning privacy and data protection rights are at serious risk by existing surveillance capabilities, and will be put further at risk by expanded powers.”

As well as being ill-prepared in terms of data protection, the tests for meeting necessity and proportionality have not been met yet: “In particular, there is no consistent or conclusive evidence that body worn cameras are necessary or effective and we oppose their introduction, as provided for by this Bill. Further research is necessary into this issue and into the effectiveness of CCTV in preventing and detecting crime before their use is expanded, as provided for by this Bill.”

Their third point on police surveillance is that the definition of “recording device” is so broad as to be unusable.

Recommendations include postponing the passing of the Digital Recordings Bill until the DPC completes its inquiries into the police; reviewing the evidence of effectiveness of the technologies proposed and ensuring tighter controls over CCTV live feeds.

The report also states what it sees as failings over data protection, including the fact Ireland’s failures to progress investigations into firms also block any other EU state address issues, a key problem given that so many Big Tech firms have their European headquarters in Ireland for tax reasons:

“As a result, EU GDPR enforcement against Big Tech is paralysed by Ireland’s failure to deliver draft decisions on cross-border cases. Ireland’s failure to uphold the GDPR has allowed surveillance to remain the default business model of the digital world. This creates a certain inevitability about privacy infringements and puts article 17 [of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] protections at risk.”

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