Concerns raised over plans for facial recognition technology to be used by gardaí

Concerns about the accuracy and potential misuse of facial recognition technology in tackling crime have been expressed by civil rights groups, academics and some politicians.

Minister for Jusitce Helen McEntee is expected to announce the plans later today when she addresses the Garda Representative Association (GRA) conference, before brining the proposal to Cabinet.

Damien McCarthy, GRA representative for Dublin Metropolitan Region, South Central Division told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny show that such technology would provide a “very positive” advantage when tackling serious crime and could speed up the process saving “thousands of hours” sifting through CCTV footage.

However, Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless warned of problems with facial recognition, citing a 2019 report from London Met which found the wrong person was identified in up to 80 per cent of cases.

“This could be a dystopian nightmare” he told RTÉ Radio’s Claire Byrne show. The situation could arise where the computer would say “go arrest that person” and it would turn out to be the wrong person, he added.

It’s not accurate, it can be discriminatory, and it moves us further towards a surveillance society that is somewhat dystopian in character.

A similar concern was also expressed by Elizabeth Farries, assistant professor at the UCD Centre for Digital Policy, who said such technology was unlikely to accomplish its goal.

“From a digital policy perspective, there’s evidence that policing facial recognition tech actually makes society less safe,” she told Newstalk Breakfast.

“It doesn’t accomplish the goal that gardaí are seeking. It’s not accurate, it can be discriminatory, and it moves us further towards a surveillance society that is somewhat dystopian in character.”

Ms Farries said there was evidence of accuracy failure with facial technology algorithms, especially against women and people of colour.

Liam Herrick of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties echoed this sentiment and warned that people’s identities were likely to be reduced to being “a human licence plate”.

There needed to be a reality check, he said, as there were already deep concerns about the respect for the privacy of individuals.

To give the Gardaí “this powerful new tool” was dangerous with a risk of misuse, he added.

Mr McCarthy said the technology would be operated to the highest professional standards, and if there was a breach of data protection it could be immediately addressed.

The new technology would allow Gardaí to tackle cybercrime, especially in the area of child exploitation as at present there was a three-year backlog of devices that had not yet been accessed. This means, he said, there are potentially victims out there who had not yet been identified and helped.

Mr McCarthy stress it is important that when the Cabinet considers the new legislation that it would provide the resources necessary to put the new technology to the best use.

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