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Irish Cabinet approves draft police facial recognition bill

Irish Cabinet approves draft police facial recognition bill

Ireland’s Minister of Justice Helen McEntee has announced she has received approval to publish the draft of the Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) (Amendment) Bill of 2023. The bill would allow Gardaí to use face recognition for biometric matching under special circumstances, namely to retroactively review CCTV footage of violent events.

In response to the riots in Dublin that took place on November 23rd, McEntee has received approval from Cabinet to include rioting and violent disorder in the scope of acceptable conditions to use facial recognition technology. The maximum penalty for each offense is an unlimited fine, a 10 year prison sentence, or both.

“We are already seeing Gardaí having to trawl through thousands of hours of CCTV – 12,000 hours in the case of the Dublin riots,” said McEntee in her announcement. “Facial recognition technology will dramatically save time, speed up investigations and free up Garda resources for the high visibility policing we all want to see,” she continued.

The draft bill allows for Gardaí to use face biometrics to retrospectively search through footage it already possesses and only in instances where serious offenses allegedly occurred, when facial identification is deemed “necessary and proportionate,” and with the written authorization by a chief superintendent.

“Facial identification” is the term used by Irish authorities to specify a process in which an individual in different video records is identified as the same person, rather than recognizing who that individual is.

Uses of facial recognition must be in the context of prevention, investigation, or prosecution of a particular offense named in the bill or for the protection of state security.

Other than for the protection of state security and the offense of riot and violent disorder, the bill would also apply to the following offenses: abduction, aggravated sexual assault, murder, and some instance of child sexual abuse, trafficking, and pornography.

The national government has agreed to ask the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice to consider including nonfatal abduction, drug trafficking, and a broader range of instances of child sex trafficking and pornography, among others.

The bill has a number of provisions to provide safeguards and oversight of powers granted to Gardaí, such as the requirement to perform data protection and human rights impact assessments.

The amendment was published shortly after the initial Recording Devices Act 2023 was signed into law on December 5th. This act will authorize the rollout for Gardaí body cams starting next spring in Dublin City Centre and provides a regulatory framework for how video and audio data can be used in criminal offenses. An Garda Síochána is not permitted to process biometric data without a clear statutory basis due to the Data Protection Act of 2018.

McEntee also notes that the law would be fully in line with requirements from EU law such as the AI Act.

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