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Ireland to hear from stakeholders on police facial recognition bill

Ireland to hear from stakeholders on police facial recognition bill

Ireland’s Joint Committee on Justice will meet in a pair of sessions today to scrutinize the draft Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) (Amendment) bill, which was approved by the Irish Cabinet at the end of 2023.

The committee will hear from the Data Protection Committee, Digital Rights Ireland, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, and An Garda Síochána (national police), and five academic experts, among others, according to the Irish Examiner. Dr. Abeba Birhane, an assistant professor specializing in AI at Trinity College will be among those speaking. She will tell the committee that facial recognition is “deeply flawed,” partly due to disparities in misidentification rates for people of color.

“So far, in the U.S. alone, we know of six people that have wrongfully been arrested due to errors in FRT, five of whom are black men and a black woman,” she plans to tell the committee.

An analysis of the use of facial recognition technology for law enforcement in Wales found that between 2016 and 2023, out of 509,000 scanned faces, only three arrests were made and over 3,000 individuals were incorrectly identified, claims Dr. Birhane. The vast majority of these came from 2017, and Welsh police claimed no false arrests were made.

The concern will be echoed by Digital Rights Ireland and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, who intend to emphasize the tech has “clearly demonstrated deeply inherent racial and gender biases.”

The Data Protection Commission plans to say that while facial recognition may facilitate policing, “this technology presents serious risks to the individual’s right to data protection,” and that such technology should only be used when it “is strictly necessary and proportionate.”

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris will say that An Garda must have “access to modern digital image analysis and recognition tools” to “vindicate the human rights of citizens in a digital society.”

He further notes that FRT or any other rising technology will act “only as a support for decisions taken by gardaí,” and will not automate decision making. “All decisions that can impact a person are only taken by identifiable and accountable personnel,” Harris will say.

“Digital crime and evidence can only be investigated with digital tools,” he will say, according to RTE. “Manual processing by garda personnel sitting at screens is becoming unfeasible and ineffective.”

There was over 22,000 hours of footage from the Dublin riots that took place in November 2023. Gardai used facial recognition not to identify individuals but to find every instance of a given individual committing a crime.

The current version of the bill only allows for biometrics to identify an individual in some criminal investigations including homicide, rape, and rioting, or to protect national security. Otherwise, biometrics can only be used to track movements of a person rather than identify them.

The hearings are being held today from 4pm to 6pm and 6:15 to 8pm local time.

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