Concerns Garda surveillance law may bring in facial recognition technology

Digital Recording Bill will allow for the use of body-worn cameras by officers

The Garda Síochána (Digital Recording) Bill 2021 will allow for the use of body-worn cameras by gardaí which will record their interactions with the public in certain circumstances. Photograph: iStock

The Garda Síochána (Digital Recording) Bill 2021 will allow for the use of body-worn cameras by gardaí which will record their interactions with the public in certain circumstances. Photograph: iStock

 

Concerns have been raised that the planned broad expansion of Garda’s surveillance powers will lead to the introduction of facial recognition technology by the back door.

The Garda Síochána (Digital Recording) Bill 2021 will allow for the use of body-worn cameras by gardaí which will record their interactions with the public in certain circumstances.

The Bill will also expand and clarify the Garda use of CCTV and allow gardaí to access live CCTV feeds from third parties. They will also be able to access automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) devices operated by third parties.

The legislation was examined before the Oireachtas’ Joint Committee on Justice which heard concerns and observations from the Policing Authority, the Data Protection Commission (DPC), the Garda Representative Association and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL).

The DPC noted the Bill does not provide a legal basis for the use of “smart camera” recording systems which could be used to “automatically profile or automatically recognise and track individuals”.

Deputy Commissioner Dale Sunderland said if devices capable of such actions are to be permitted “it would need to be explicitly and carefully provided for”.

Regarding the use of body-worn cameras, he welcomed the requirement that the devices be visible on the clothing of gardaí. The planned code of practice governing their use will be “critical in ensuring the use of such technology is proportionate, that the resulting data is properly secured, and is not used for other purposes beyond what is provided for in law,” he said.

ICCL’s head of legal and policy Doireann Ansbro said the Bill should be shelved in its current form until the DPC “has proper and sufficient policies and practices to ensure that data protection law is upheld”.

She said the council has serious concerns about the expansion of Garda surveillance powers while there are ongoing inquiries by the DPC into the force’s compliance with data protection law.

The Bill’s definition of what constitutes a “recording device” is vague, Ms Ansbro said, “and may pave the way for the introduction of new technologies such as facial recognition technology without sufficient debate, research or a demonstration of their necessity”.

She said the facial recognition technology has been proven to have ethnic, racial and gender biases and “has enabled mass surveillance and discriminatory targeted surveillance”.

Chairman of the Policing Authority Bob Collins said the use of technology mandated by the Bill could be a barrier to public trust and may infringe human rights “if not undertaken with caution and under external, transparent and independent scrutiny.”

He said the Authority is pleased the law provides for a Human Rights Impact Assessment to be carried out on the legislation but called for the inclusion of a five-year review to examine “future technology which may have consequences that are unintended or unimaginable”.

Independent Senator Lynn Ruane said this kind of legislation makes her “nervous” and asked how working class communities can be safeguarded from being “overpoliced” by such measures.

Ms Ansbro responded there is clear evidence of biases in-built to facial recognition technology which impacts trust between police and communities.

She said it is concerning that the 2016 Garda Modernisation Plan committed to implementing facial recognition technology using “face in the crowd and shape in the crowd biometrics” to identify suspects.