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Rights commission concerned about proposed facial recognition bill for Irish police

Rights commission concerned about proposed facial recognition bill for Irish police

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has stated that the legislation regarding the proposed implementation of facial recognition technology (FRT) by An Garda Síochána falls short in adequately protecting individuals’ fundamental rights.

This move, while purportedly aimed at bolstering the digital capabilities of the Irish police force, has drawn the Commission’s attention to the potential infringement on fundamental rights and the need for stringent legal protections.

In February, the Justice Committee issued a pre-legislative scrutiny report concerning the Facial Recognition Technology Bill, outlining the parameters for the technology’s utilization by An Garda Síochána.

Facial recognition technology, known for its intrusive nature, demands robust rules and justifications, the IHREC emphasizes. In its submission to the minister of justice, the IHREC underscores the inadequacy of the proposed legislation in ensuring the protection of these rights.

Acknowledging the imperative of modernizing the Irish police service, the commission asserts that adherence to human rights and equality principles remains indispensable. Striking a balance between the advancement of law enforcement capabilities and safeguarding individual liberties emerges as a critical consideration.

Of particular concern is the risk of profiling and discriminatory outcomes associated with facial recognition technologies. The IHREC advocates for independent scrutiny of the human rights and equality implications, proposing oversight mechanisms through either existing bodies like the new policing and community safety authority or the establishment of dedicated entities focusing on emerging technologies.

Key recommendations put forth by the commission include the insistence on judicial authorization for the use of facial recognition technology, clear procedural safeguards, and limitations on its application to relevant and proportionate offenses. Additionally, the IHREC stresses the necessity of delineating precise human rights and equality obligations for Garda personnel within the legislative framework.

In the words of Commission Director Deirdre Malone, the proposed legislation marks a significant expansion of policing powers, underscoring the responsibility of An Garda Síochána to ensure judicious use aligned with legal and ethical standards.

“The use of biometric identification and facial recognition technologies represents a radical upturn in the policing powers of the state. This places a clear responsibility on members of An Garda Síochána to ensure that these powers are only used in a manner that is consistent with both the Act and code of practice,” Malone adds.

“Therefore, it is vital that the proposed Act incorporates from the outset the necessary human rights and equality protections that are an essential part of our democracy and the rule of law.”

In addition to these concerns, the IHREC highlights several recommendations, including defining “biometric identification” in line with EU standards, specifying permissible sources of material for biometric identification, and ensuring transparency in the application and approval processes.

The commission says that the operationalization of biometric identification should be contingent upon the publication of a comprehensive code of practice, delineating the roles of Garda personnel and outlining the requisite training and expertise.

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