Standalone Facial Recognition Technology Bill needed with broad and open debate on it’s provisions

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD
16 April 2023
  • Public consultation needed to hear concerns of all stakeholders including Garda Commissioner.
  • Debate in Ireland must recognise proposals in European Parliament to ban use of Facial Recogition Technology in public spaces.

Responding to reports today, Labour Justice spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has called again on the Justice Minister to commit to standalone legislation on facial recognition technology (FRT) but said it must be preceded by public consultation and full scrutiny of proposals at the Justice Committee where all stakeholders, including the Garda Commissioner can publicly put forward their case.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin said:
“The revelation today that the Garda Commissioner has written to the government seeking the use of FRT when Garda body cameras are introduced, without any public scrutiny or debate confirms the urgent need for standalone legislation that must be preceded by public consultation and engagement with all stakeholders at the Oireachtas Justice Committee.

“The debate in Ireland also cannot be divorced from what is happening in the European Parliament where draft legislation is close to being agreed that would regulate artificial technology and includes a ban on the use of FRT in public spaces under any circumstances.

“When the Dáil was debating in February the draft law to provide legal underpinning for Garda body cameras I expressed Labour’s serious concerns about the intention of the Minister for Justice to bring in committee stage amendments that would provide for the use of facial recognition technology (FRT) in the investigation and prosecution of crimes.

“The issue of FRT was not considered during pre-legislative scrutiny of the current bill, and there are serious issues about privacy, trust and data protection that need to be properly considered. The ICCL has warned about how such mass surveillance can be used to draw a detailed map of a person’s identity and activities, and that there are also serious concerns about accuracy and bias.

Despite some concerns on body cams, we support the current legislation, but on FRT, we are yet to be convinced that this is the right time to bring in this incredibly powerful tool on top of what the Minister is already proposing when there has been no public consultation or scrutiny of his unpublished proposals.

“The intervention last week by the Green Party opposing late stage amendments that have not been properly scrutinised or considered by the Justice Committee is welcome, and the Minister for Justice now needs to reflect on his position. Minister Harris should admit he made a mistake, and agree to a new open and transparent process that would allow the views of all stakeholders to be heard.

“I am calling now on the Minister for Justice to confirm that he won’t seek to introduce last minute amendments on facial recognition technology. What he now needs to do is commit to publishing an outline of what approach his Department and An Garda Síochána would like to take on FRT, hold a public consultation, and then publish a general scheme of a bill, which could then go to the Justice Committee for pre-legislative scrutiny. At these hearings we could hear from An Garda Síochána, the ICCL, experts in the technology and other stakeholders.

“Technology is evolving all the time, and there may be legitimate uses for FRT in the investigation of crime, but such powerful technology should be properly considered and scrutinised when it poses, as the ICCL has said, a serious risk to people’s fundamental rights.”

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