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Irish police start €10M facial recognition body cam procurement

Irish police start €10M facial recognition body cam procurement

The Irish police, known as Garda Síochana, have officially started the public procurement process for facial recognition body-worn cameras, a move that has caused controversy as the country awaits regulation for police use of face scanning software.

Ireland is currently debating the Garda Síochána (Digital Management and Facial Recognition Technology) Bill 2023 which would allow facial recognition to be used retrospectively to search through images.

The tender, published on Tuesday, seeks recommendations on body-worn camera systems and the Digital Evidence Management System (DEMS), used for collecting and analyzing footage obtained by the cameras, including retrospective facial recognition.

The DEMS system also plans to integrate or replace existing CCTV surveillance systems.

“While [body-worn camera] footage is expected to be relatively small in volume and not a significant source for retrospective [facial recognition technology], other CCTV evidence collected and stored on DEMS may be,” the document explains.

The police say they expect the system to cost around 10 million euros (approximately US$10.7 million) over five years. The body-worn cameras will first be introduced as a pilot in mid-2024, with full roll-out expected in 2025.

Plans to introduce them, however, have raised concerns among civil rights organizations and lawmakers. Ireland’s official police watchdog, the Garda Síochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), warned in June that they will need significant funds in order to track potential abuse of facial recognition technology and body-worn cameras by the police.

In June, Justice Minister Helen McEntee agreed to compromise with Green Party coalition partners which argued that face biometrics regulation should be separated from laws governing body-worn cameras. The current body cam procurement is run under the legislative basis of the Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Bill 2022 which does not include a provision for the use of facial recognition technology. The government expects to finalize the facial recognition bill by the end of the year.

The Irish police force has been attempting to quell suspicions that the body cams would be used for mass surveillance and profiling. The draft bill promises to use the technology only in serious crime investigations while the police say their cameras will only be switched on in specific circumstances.

The procurement documents also highlight that the police have no plans to use live facial recognition on body-worn cameras.

“One of our core principles is that every decision that could impact on a person is made by accountable, identifiable Garda personnel,” Andrew O Sullivan, chief information officer for An Garda Síochána, says in a release. “There is no question of autonomous machine decision making, ever.”

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