Greens block Simon Harris’ bid to allow Garda to use facial recognition technology

The Greens will block Justice Secretary Simon Harris’ efforts to give An Garda Síochána the power to use facial recognition technology (FRT) before the summer.

r Harris is keen to pass the new law to give gardaí the power to use body cameras, which could also include changes allowing the force to use FRT in limited circumstances ahead of Helen McEntee’s return from maternity leave in June.

But a spokesman for the Greens said so Sunday independent The party believes Ireland’s approach should be influenced by EU legislation on the same issue, which is not expected to come into force until 2024 at the earliest.

Health Secretary Stephen Donnelly, a rival in Mr Harris’ constituency, also has long-standing concerns about the use of FRT software, which has been banned in several US cities including San Francisco and Boston.

Mr Donnelly’s spokesman confirmed the minister had previously “raised concerns about how parts of the technology could be deployed” and said “there is an ongoing discussion on the subject”.

Ms McEntee faced a Cabinet reaction from the Greens and Mr Donnelly last year when she first considered using FRT, but Fine Gael has pledged to roll out the technology at the request of Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, who is seeking powers for has requested limited circumstances such as homicide, missing persons and cases of child sexual abuse.

Its use is controversial, with an independent report in the UK finding that 81 per cent of suspects flagged by the London Metropolitan Police FRT were innocent. Green Party leader Marc Ó Cathasaigh expressed concerns in the Dáil last week about the FRT’s inherent prejudice against young black men, saying it might be more appropriate to delay legislation on it until EU legislation is passed.

A spokesman for the Greens confirmed that this was the party’s position.

“While we fully support measures to support investigations into serious crime, international experiences have raised significant concerns about the safe use of facial recognition technology,” they said.

“The European Union is working on legislation that should influence our approach. We will work with Secretary Harris and our Government colleagues to ensure we strike the right balance between protecting our civil liberties and allowing our justice system to take advantage of technological advances that can help it do its job.”

While there is no proposal at EU level to regulate the retrospective use of facial recognition for data processing, the draft EU law proposes to ban the use of live facial recognition technology but still allow it in extremely severe and limited circumstances.

Proponents of using FRT in Fine Gael argue that the technology is already being used by Europol and Interpol and that there are 18 EU member states that either have it or are proposing to use it.

Mr Harris told the Dáil last week that “the Garda Commissioner and staff have made convincing arguments for the use of this technology in certain limited circumstances”. He is scheduled to submit a report on FRT to Cabinet within weeks before possible amendments to the body cams legislation at committee stage, known as the Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Bill 2022.

“The current process of long manual searches, where a team of gardaí may manually search through CCTV footage for months to find a few short clips that might be relevant to an investigation, is outdated and highly inefficient,” Mr Harris told TDs

“This is especially true when time is of the essence. Members can imagine having to manually go through hours and hours, even hundreds of hours of CCTV footage when time is of the essence in a homicide investigation or when dealing with a missing person or child abuse when we just don’t have the time replacement part.”

He insisted that “the circumstances and environment in which FRT would be used are limited to specific use cases that I believe are entirely justifiable.” Greens block Simon Harris’ bid to allow Garda to use facial recognition technology

Fry Electronics Team

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