Gardaí will be able to use real-time facial recognition under planned legislation

Law will allow for live tracking of suspects as well as retrospective analysis of CCTV records

Facial recognition technology set to be used by An Garda Síochána will be able to identify and track people in real time using CCTV cameras.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee announced last week that her department is drawing up legislation to allow gardaí to use the technology to analyse CCTV footage for suspects in serious crimes or missing people. She said this would save thousands of man hours as gardaí would no longer have to manually trawl through footage.

However, sources confirmed that there will be provision for gardaí to use the technology in conjunction with live camera footage rather than just retrospectively. This would allow the force to track people in real time as they move about in public. Sources said this would only be used where there is a risk to national security or where there is an immediate threat to life, such as in child abduction cases.

The use of live facial recognition technology by police forces has caused significant controversy in other countries due to its ability to track people as they go about their business. London’s Metropolitan Police recently deployed live cameras on the top of police vans to deal with public violence.


The cameras scan the faces of people walking by and match them against a database of known offenders or people wanted on warrants. Signs warn the public they are entering an area covered by facial recognition technology and any matches are then transmitted to police officers’ smartphones.

More generally, facial recognition has attracted criticism due to its low success rate in identifying specific people, with a 2019 study finding that in 81 per cent of cases the technology used by London police identified the wrong person.

Sources here said live use of the technology would only happen in specific circumstances, and the main focus of the legislation is to help gardaí process the masses of information they gather in evidence from CCTV and digital records.

“Facial recognition will not be used for indiscriminate surveillance – it will be used in very clearly defined circumstances to help gardaí search CCTV and video footage,” said a Department of Justice spokeswoman, who said consultation on the Bill was ongoing and that it would likely be brought to the Cabinet in the autumn.

The legislation allowing for the technology will also allow gardaí to use body cameras and access third-party CCTV feeds. It is not clear if facial recognition will be used in tandem with body cameras.

The use of facial recognition by gardaí will be contingent on the EU Artificial Intelligence Act which is currently being negotiated at EU level. The act is expected the ban the use of real-time facial recognition in public places except in a limited circumstances. Ms McEntee has said safeguards will be put in place on the use of the technology, and that it will be subject to data protection rules.

A Department of Justice spokeswoman said consultation is ongoing with stakeholders and the Minister will finalise the proposals in conjunction with the Attorney General “and will bring them to Government before committee stage of the Bill, which is expected to take place in the Autumn”.

“Facial recognition will not be used for indiscriminate surveillance – it will be used in very clearly defined circumstances to help gardaí search CCTV and video footage,” she said.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times