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Ireland to introduce a bill on retrospective facial recognition use by police

Ireland to introduce a bill on retrospective facial recognition use by police

Legislators in Ireland plan to introduce a standalone bill governing the use of facial recognition by its police force before 2024.

The Garda Síochána (Digital Management and Facial Recognition Technology) Bill specifies that the software will only be allowed to analyze historical video legally in police custody.

According to reporting by the Irish Legal News, the new bill will be separate from the Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Bill, legislation governing the use of body cameras now being discussed by Parliament.

Though the bill isn’t due until yearend, ministers have agreed that police officials should start buying what they need to add face scanning to bodycams, so it can be used as soon as the law is passed.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee said: “I firmly believe that bodycams and (facial recognition) are required to ensure that An Garda Siochana is a fully equipped, modern police service operating in a digital age, but I also acknowledge that some people hold legitimate concerns around the use of such technology.” McEntee had defended an amendment to the Garda Bill in part by saying it did not involve live facial recognition, and when the amendment was defeated made clear that a separate bill would follow.

Much like in the rest of the world, police use of facial recognition in Ireland remains controversial.

In June, an official from the Garda Síochana Ombudsman Commission said facial recognition algorithm use could be “both good and bad.” His organization will need “significant investment” in order to monitor and prevent abuses.

“No technology is infallible,” Hugh Hume told the Public Petitions Committee in a meeting reported by The Journal. “Any introduction of tech must have robust procedures for the protection of data, and the protection of imageries to make sure it isn’t shared disproportionately.”

Clarifying some of the potential concerns about the technology, McEntee reiterated in an interview with RTE Radio that “there will be safeguards” to ensure facial recognition cannot be used on a “live” basis.

Live facial recognition involves analysis of images as they are received. Typically, the images are compared to a watchlist of criminals and sometimes of anyone photographed by police.

“There won’t be guards walking down Grafton Street live-profiling anybody,” she said in an interview with the Irish News.

In contrast, live facial recognition is already used in the United Kingdom, mainly for large-crowd events that are deemed high-risk

During the coronation of King Charles, in May, 68,000 people reportedly had their faces scanned.

UK police also used facial recognition near a Beyoncé concert in Cardiff, Wales, a May stadium event estimated to have attracted 60,000 people. The software was employed in the surrounding city center, not the stadium itself.

Some aspects of facial recognition are covered in the UK’s Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, now being debated.

Perceived loose regulation like this has prompted criticism.

Michael Birtwistle, associate director at independent research organization the Ada Lovelace Institute, has said, “Without a proper regulatory framework, there isn’t a guarantee that facial recognition systems deployed by police will meet reasonable standards of accuracy or that their use will remain proportionate to the risks presented by them.”

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