Ireland

Minister urged to address facial recognition technology concerns

Helen McEntee has said the legislation will help Gardai ‘trawl’ through hours of footage retrospectively.

a simulated pic of how facial recognition technology works, showing a crowd of people with numbers above their head
face recognition technology Facial recognition technology could have An Garda Síochána from having to comb through hours of video retrospectively (Alamy Stock Photo)

A parliamentary committee has urged the Justice Minister to address concerns about the accuracy and bias in the use of facial recognition technology by gardai.

Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) has been cited as a way of speeding up Garda investigations, but has also raised concerns around its accuracy and possible infringement of people’s privacy.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has said the aim of the FRT Bill is to help gardai “trawl” through thousands of hours of CCTV when investigating serious crimes.

But groups such as the Irish Council for Civil Liberties have raised concern about how FRT could be used by authorities.



Minister for Justice Helen McEntee
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee Minister for Justice Helen McEntee (Niall Carson/PA)

The technology also resulted in a split at Cabinet, which was addressed when standalone legislation was proposed to regulate the technology and to ease the Green Party’s qualms.

On Tuesday, the Oireachtas Justice Committee published its pre-legislative scrutiny report into the draft law that would provide for FRT.

The committee recommended that the rationale for introducing FRT be published alongside the Bill, and that there should be a “periodic, independent, judge-led review” included in the legislation of all use of biometric identification.

It recommended that the Minister for Justice address both “ongoing concern about discrimination or inherent bias” and the “ongoing concern about accuracy” in the technology.

It also recommended that after Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said they do not intend to “run images against a database” that Gardai provide clarify on what exactly FRT would be used for.

“The Committee also recommends that an Garda Siochana (AGS) and the Department of Justice must urgently clarify some of the following details regarding the database: if it is the intention to provide access to databases; what database they intend to use in respect of retrospective FRT; the source of the database; how a database would be populated if they are to make their own; and the criteria for adding anyone to that database.”

Thirty-two recommendations were made in total, including redrafting the definition of ‘biometric data’ in order to “bring it in line with EU law”; clarifying the access to remedy for those whose rights are breached as a result of FRT; and a requirement that any prosecutions using FRT shall disclose that to the defence before a trial.

Chairman of the Justice Committee James Lawless said they had acknowledged its potential use for Garda operations, but noted the concerns that were raised that “could lead to miscarriages of justice”.

“We urge the Minister and the Commissioner to address these concerns proactively in public discourse and parliamentary debates to instil greater confidence in the use of such systems,” he said on Wednesday.