Irish police plan novel application of facial recognition to limit risks
One of the main concerns around police use of facial recognition technology to identify suspects is the potential for false arrests. But in Ireland, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris proposes the technology can expedite criminal investigations without being used to identify suspects, according to Breaking News.
Harris spoke to the justice committee about the matter on Wednesday. He clarified concerns about using the technology in identifying suspects and explained that the Gardaí intend to use the technology to scan previously recorded footage.
“Facial recognition technology is not actually what we’re seeking, we’re seeking facial identification,” he said.
The police would not match individuals against a database with a 1:N algorithm, but would instead use face biometrics to assist in finding each instance of an individual engaging in criminal activity contained in huge volumes of footage. “It’s just so much faster, and I mean months and months faster than individual gardaí sitting in front of laptops going through thousands of hours of CCTV.”
Legislation was proposed earlier this year to limit the use of facial recognition in policing to investigations involving serious crimes like murder, rape, child sexual abuse, abduction, and “serious security matters.”
Minister of Justice Helen McEntee requested that officials expand the scope of use outlined in the legislation to include riots, after an anti-immigrant riot in Dublin last Thursday resulted in 30 arrests.
In this circumstance, based on Harris’ explanation, facial recognition would be used to find each instance of an individual breaking the law. The police would then investigate to identify the individual.
“Facial recognition results made them unable to see”
In the U.S., the use of facial recognition for identification has been involved in several false arrests following inadequate investigation. Police officers falsely arrested Alonzo Cornelius Sawyer for assault in March of 2022 after he was identified as a potential match using surveillance footage and a database, even though he had a solid alibi and the victim explicitly denied that he was the man who attacked her.
For a recent article in The New Yorker, journalist Eyal Press reviewed the footage and says the suspect identified as Sawyer was able to run from the crime, even though Sawyer’s gait was strained and he ran “gingerly” due to an old injury that never healed properly.
“Why hadn’t this led any of the M.T.A. officers to wonder if the man moving rapidly in the surveillance video was really Sawyer?,” asks Press. “Seeing the facial recognition results seems to have made them unable to see Sawyer.”
Given the explicit position of the Justice Department that facial recognition without further investigation cannot constitute probable cause, every such arrest is a departure from best practices.
Even at the Federal Government, however, best practices may not be well enough known. A recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office revealed that only ten out of 196 FBI staff members with access to facial recognition technology had completed a nominally requisite 24-hour training course on its proper use.