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Irish Cabinet Approval Received For Draft Facial Recognition Technology Bill.

  • Retrospective use of FRT to be permitted to assist Gardaí when they are searching CCTV footage and help build stronger, safer communities.
  • Cabinet approves riot and violent disorder in list of offences for which Facial Recognition Technology can be used.
  • Oireachtas Justice Committee asked to examine if FRT can be used for further offences.

The Irish Government has given approval to publish the General Scheme of the Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) (Amendment) Bill 2023, which will allow An Garda Síochána to use Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) in specific circumstances.
FRT is expected to save thousands of Garda working hours, by allowing the use of biometric identification to retrospectively search CCTV, thus building stronger and safer communities.
In light of the riots in Dublin City Centre on the 23rd November last, Cabinet approval for the offences of riot and violent disorder is now to be included in the proposed scope of FRT.

The maximum penalty for each of these offences is an unlimited fine, a prison sentence of up to 10 years, or both. In addition to asking the Oireachtas Justice Committee to conduct pre-legislative scrutiny, the Committee will now be asked to consider an additional list of serious offences for possible inclusion in the schedule of offences in the Bill.

The publication of the draft FRT Bill follows shortly after the passage through the Oireachtas, on November 29th 2023, of the Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Act 2023, which was signed into law on the December 5th last.

This Act will allow An Garda Síochána to rollout bodycams from next spring, beginning in Dublin city centre. It will also provide for a robust and modern statutory framework for the use by An Garda Síochána of recording devices and the processing of video and audio data, to support their functions in investigating, detecting, preventing, prosecuting criminal offences, safeguarding against and preventing threats to public safety, public order, and in matters relating to the overall security of the State.

The draft FRT Bill will amend the Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Act 2023 in order to give effect to the Government decision to provide that biometric identification may be used by An Garda Síochána.
Under the present Data Protection Act 2018, it is not possible for An Garda Síochána to process biometric data without a clear statutory basis being put in place.
The power to utilise biometric identification using facial images (often referred to as facial recognition technology) needs to be explicitly provided for and is set out in this General Scheme.

There has been an explosion in the use of digital data in criminal investigations, and that without adequate data analysis tools, the length of criminal investigations will increase.
Already Gardaí have to trawl through thousands of hours of CCTV, (12,000 hours in the case of the Dublin riot. The introduction of Facial Recognition Technology will dramatically save time, speed up investigations and free up Garda resources.
Reducing the amount of time it takes Gardaí to go through video footage will be of particular help where time is of the essence, following a very serious crime having been committed. It is regarded, in the interests of all parties, not least victims of crime, to have criminal investigations pursued as effectively and rapidly as is possible.

The General Scheme is intended to provide for the use of biometric identification, using facial images, by An Garda Síochána for an exhaustive list of the most serious of offences. It will only provide for a limited form of retrospective use of biometric identification which can assist An Garda Síochána when they are searching CCTV footage and data.

This draft Bill will provide for retrospective searching of images which are legally in the possession of An Garda Síochána, through the safe and ethical use of biometric identification in the following circumstances only:

  1. Where a serious offence is suspected, as listed in the Schedule of the General Scheme.
  2. The use of biometric identification is necessary and proportionate in that specific case.
  3. Each particular use of biometric identification is authorised in writing in advance by a Chief Superintendent and a record of that authorisation maintained.

The Government decision today has expanded this to include riot and public disorder. Such use can only be in the context of the prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of one or more of the criminal offences listed in the Schedule or for the protection of the security of the State.
It is also important to note that there are numerous provisions included in the General Scheme which provide safeguards and oversight of the powers granted to An Garda Síochána.

While allowing An Garda Síochána access to technology to assist them in performing their function, the power provided must be subject to sufficient safeguards and oversight to ensure the use of this technology is necessary and proportionate at all times.
This draft Bill ensures that there is a requirement for a statutory code of practice, including requirements to conduct data protection and human rights impact assessments.
Not only does it ensure that the requirements for a code of practice covers the use of this type of biometric identification, it also ensures that any code created under these provisions, will have to be approved by the Houses of the Oireachtas.
We understand that there will also be judicial oversight. The designated judge of the High Court will have to report to the Taoiseach annually and this report will be laid before the Oireachtas.

The General Scheme will now be submitted to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice for pre-legislative scrutiny and to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for drafting.
The Oireachtas Justice Committee will consider an additional list of serious offences which FRT could be used to investigate. While they are not subject to a penalty on conviction of up to life imprisonment, however many carry very significant sentences (e.g. some have max sentences of 14 years).
They comprise additional sexual and child exploitation offences and other serious violent offences for which biometric identification is likely to be effective and are subject to extremely serious penalties.

A full list of the offences being referred to the Committee include: Abduction/False Imprisonment; Aggravated Sexual Assault; Rape; Child Sexual Abuse; Aggravated Burglary; Causing serious harm; Homicide; Riot and Violent Disorder and Robbery.

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