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Irish opposition warns against rushed legislation for police use of facial recognition

Irish opposition warns against rushed legislation for police use of facial recognition

Plans by Irish Minister of Justice Simon Harris to amend existing legislation to allow the use of facial recognition technology by An Garda Síochána (Ireland’s national police) has met with what is being called a coalition resistance fronted by the opposition Green Party.

The Green Party has told the Minister a standalone legislation would be better for that purpose, which would allow the opportunity for broader pre-legislation scrutiny and inputs from various important stakeholders such as subject matter experts among others, reports Irish Times (IT).

The government is seeking to add the amendments to allow the use of facial recognition technology to a law currently in parliament (Oireachtas) on the use of body cameras by members of the national police.

The Green Party says it is not opposed to the use of the technology in all cases, but it prefers specific legislation that will reflect greater participation from the public and other interested parties.

Irish Times quotes the Green Party Minister of State Ossian Smyth as admitting in an interview to RTE that the proposal is a welcome idea as the technology would allow the police to dig into serious crimes, but “what we’ve said is that we don’t think it should be included in the body cam legislation, which is halfway through its process, that we think that it should be properly debated and that should go to the Justice Committee.”

Smyth adds that while the facial recognition technology is important for instances such as search for crime suspects, the technology also comes with certain risks as people’s biometric data recorded and stored by the system could be used for other purposes in what could turn out to be “mass surveillance” which “isn’t really compatible with democracy.”

The Chairperson of the Oireachtas Justice Committee is also reported to be in favour of a separate legislation for the technology, urging the government “to tread carefully or it will be one step forward, two steps back, as has been seen in other jurisdictions already.”

A spokesman for the Justice Minister cited by IT underlines the benefits of facial recognition especially in the execution of law enforcement tasks.

The push by Harris seeks to allow the use of facial recognition by the police in a limited number of circumstances such as during probes on cases of murder, missing persons or child abuse, notes Sunday Independent.

But there has been some criticism of the plan with an analysis by the Irish Times last year describing the move as controversial and ill-advised.

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