Ireland’s facial recognition software plans to come under spotlight at UN rights session

Garda use of the technology ‘risks privacy breaches, potential discrimination and further violations of data protection law’ says ICCL

The introduction of facial recognition technology under enhanced Garda surveillance powers and the lack of hate crime legislation in Ireland have been signposted as key issues the United Nations Human Rights Committee is likely to raise when it meets Government representatives next week.

The meeting, which takes place every four years in Geneva, is being hosted by the UN as part of its role of oversight of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Ireland signed up to in 1989.

It can make recommendations as to how states should improve their compliance with the Covenant. In the past it has called on Ireland to abolish the Special Criminal Court and to ratify the protocol to the main UN anti-torture treaty – the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.

Neither of these have yet been acted upon by the Government, but executive director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) Liam Herrick remained upbeat ahead of next week’s session.

He pointed to other areas where engagement with the Committee has yielded more tangible results, including gender equality, women’s rights and the historical abuse of people in State-run institutions.

“There is a strong record of recommendations from the Committee being taken on board by the Government, and then there are other issues like the Special Criminal Court which have yet to be acted upon,” Mr Herrick said.

He welcomed the decision of the Government to send a delegation to Geneva headed by Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman. “It is not always the case that a full Government Minister leads the delegation, and other countries often don’t send such a high-ranking official, so that is a positive step and one which will be recognised by the committee.”

In a shadow report drafted for the Committee by the ICCL, other issues affecting people in Ireland – including members of the LGBT+ community, Travellers, Roma and survivors of Mother and Baby Homes – were also highlighted.

“We have long been calling for narrower and better regulated surveillance powers for the Garda,” said Doireann Ansbro, ICCL head of legal and policy. “However, since our shadow report to the UN, we’ve been extremely disappointed to hear Government propose an expansion of powers that would see controversial facial recognition technology being used.”

She said such technology “risks privacy breaches, potential discrimination and further violations of data protection law”.

The ICCL also recommended that laws against hate crime be introduced, taking into account the needs of the communities affected by such crimes.

“Ireland does not have hate crime legislation and the provisions on incitement to hatred are outdated,” said Luna Lara Liboni, the organisation’s equality and hate crime policy officer.

She pointed to “a concerning increase of attacks against the LGBTI+ community during Pride month” and said it was “time that Ireland sends a clear message that these crimes are unacceptable, and that measures are taken to ensure all affected communities feel safe”.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast