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Facial recognition technology will be available to gardaí to help identify suspects under new law


Justice Minister Helen McEntee supports new legislation

Justice Minister Helen McEntee supports new legislation

Justice Minister Helen McEntee supports new legislation

Gardaí will be given powers to use facial recognition technology to identify suspects in serious crimes for the first time.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee is seeking cabinet approval to allow the use of special software to catch killers and child predators as well as ruling out innocent people in investigations.

Ms McEntee is also expected to tell gardaí today that national security and public safety must override the right to privacy in certain instances.

The move is likely to raise concern among civil rights groups, although the legislation will have safeguards to ensure full compliance with human rights, GDPR and data protection laws.

The focus of the legislation will be to help gardaí investigate cases of murder, child exploitation and missing persons.

Facial recognition software is already used by a number of crime-fighting agencies, including police departments in the US and the Metropolitan Police in London.

Ms McEntee is today due to address the annual Garda Representative Association (GRA) conference in Westport, Co Mayo.

She is expected to tell delegates she cannot agree with people who call for a ban on technology that allows for the identification of a person in investigations.

In her address, she is also expected to say there are occasions when the interests of public safety, fighting crime and national security must override the right to absolute privacy.

The technology is used by the Metropolitan Police to help locate people on watchlists sought by investigators as a real-time aid to prove whether a person has supplied false or misleading details or as a retrospective system to establish someone’s identity.

The Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Bill, previously called the Digital Recordings Bill, is expected to reach the second stage in the Dáil by the end of next month. There are hopes it will be enacted by the end of the year and will allow for the introduction of body cameras.

Ms McEntee will also seek approval to include measures around facial recognition as committee stage amendments to the bill.

She is expected to tell the GRA conference that the necessary powers to record CCTV must be accompanied by limited powers to search and process these records in an effective and efficient way.

Facial recognition technology could be used to identify a suspect of whom gardaí already have a picture without trawling through thousands of hours of CCTV footage.

These automated searches will take investigators minutes, compared with the laborious process of reviewing individual footage.

It is hoped such technology will also help prove a person’s innocence in situations in which they are suspected of a crime but are proved to be at another location.

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The technology is already used in child exploitation cases by agencies including Europol, Interpol, the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) and the US National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children.

Safeguards within the legislation will include a full human rights and data protection impact assessment.

Ms McEntee is expected to insist it will not be used for indiscriminate surveillance, mass data gathering or racial profiling, but instead will be used to support gardaí in clearly defined circumstances.

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