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Irish police watchdog warns of facial recognition abuse, UK police defends the technology

Irish police watchdog warns of facial recognition abuse, UK police defends the technology
 

Ireland’s police watchdog said that they will need significant funds in order to track potential abuse of facial recognition technology and body-worn cameras by the police. The warning comes as Ireland prepares to amend its laws to allow facial recognition in policing.

The Garda Síochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), the agency in charge of overseeing the Irish national police, said on Thursday that the technology might be helpful but can be used for “both good and bad,” The Journal reports.

“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,” says GSOC commissioner Hugh Hume.

With the introduction of the new tech, the police watchdog is expecting a significant increase in workload. The agency, however, has been struggling with chronic staff shortages despite handling 3000 allegations a year, according to the report.

The Irish government is aiming to amend existing legislation on the use of body cameras to allow police use of facial recognition, a plan that has been met with resistance from a coalition fronted by the opposition Green Party. While the party is not against the technology, it has been arguing for standalone legislation which would allow for more scrutiny and input from stakeholders. The politicians also voiced concerns about algorithmic bias.

The matter has been complicated further after it was discovered that Irish police commissioner Drew Harries tried to include biometric algorithms into the bill regulating body-cam behind closed doors. Privacy advocates have taken the effort as proof that the public will be kept in the dark.

UK Met Police defends facial recognition tech to parliament

The largest police force in the UK is defending its use of facial recognition technology after critics have slammed plans by the UK’s policing minister to push the biometric identification technology in all police forces nationally.

Lindsey Chiswick, director of intelligence at the London Metropolitan Police Service, addressed the UK parliament’s Science, Innovation, and Technology Committee, saying that the UK police force plans to deploy in “in as careful, proportionate and transparent way possible” despite understandable public concern.

The police official also said that the force must also assess the necessity and proportionality of each deployment of facial recognition, Computer Weekly reports.

“At the moment, there must be a solid use case for why we are deploying the technology,” says Chiswick. “This is not a fishing expedition; we are targeting areas where there is public concern about high levels of crime.”

Facial recognition technology is currently being trialed by two police forces in the UK, the South Wales Police and London’s Metropolitan Police. Despite warnings from digital rights groups, the technology has been deployed during public events such as the coronation of King Charles and, more recently, Beyonce’s concert.

The UK’s policing minister, Chris Philp, wants to expand the use of these systems in law enforcement, including rollouts to more forces and police body cameras.

Answering questions from UK parliament members, Chiswick clarified that including everyone on facial recognition watchlists would be illegal. She added that every bespoke watchlist is deleted after use because there is no lawful reason for the data to be retained.

According to figures cited by Computer Weekly, the Met Police scanned biometric information of around 84,600 people in 2023 with two arrests made so far.

The Met Police police official noted that linking CCTV networks of entire UK cities or regions to facial recognition would be technically feasible but noted that she would question the proportionality of linking up all cameras into a single unified system.

Last week, the UK National Physical Laboratory (NPL) presented test results on the NEC system used by the Met Police and South Wales Police.

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