Minister for Justice Simon Harris has said he intends to bring a report to Government shortly on the use of facial recognition technology by An Garda Síochána.
Mr Harris said the introduction of such technology would be subject to a code of practice to ensure transparency.
The Minister was speaking as the Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Bill 2022 was being debated in the Dáil on Wednesday. The Bill would allow for the use of body-worn cameras by gardaí.
Mr Harris said he intended to bring an amendment to the Bill at committee stage on the use of facial recognition technology (FRT) by gardaí.
He said such technology would have “potentially transformational benefits” in relation to certain areas of police work.
“A striking example would be Garda work in combating child sexual abuse online,” he said.
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“As things stand, gardaí are forced to review what could be hundreds of thousands of the most harrowing images or footage of these crimes.
“Should facial recognition technology be eventually included in this Bill, then gardaí will be able to utilise that tool in order to quickly identify both victims and perpetrators.”
The Minister said he appreciated there were different views on the issue, and promised to engage further with colleagues in Government.
“The central theme of the Bill is that any proposed use of a particular technology must be necessary and proportionate,” he added.
“That approach would continue with the proposed amendments, with any inclusion of facial recognition in the Bill being subject to considerable safeguards and oversight.
“This would include judicial oversight over the operation of this technology, a strict prior approval mechanism for its use and Garda personnel remaining responsible as decision-makers, meaning that there would not be any machine decision-making.
“Data protection impact and human rights impact assessments will be required and just like other crucial aspects of this Bill, any inclusion of facial recognition technology would be subject to a code of practice so as to ensure transparency as to the procedures involved in any use of facial recognition technology.”
Mr Harris noted there had been a number of attacks in recent weeks where gardaí had been seriously injured, and he absolutely condemned such attacks.
“We have also seen threatening behaviour from people who are intent on sowing division in our society,” he said.
“These people have not only intimidated and threatened citizens who are seeking our help, they have, in some instances, sought to intimidate and threaten members of An Garda Síochána who are protecting all of our communities. This simply will not and cannot be tolerated.”
Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said it was ”less than desirable at this stage” that a new element of the Bill would be brought forward in relation to FRT.
The Dublin Bay North TD said his party supported the use of body-worn cameras by gardaí but that there was “a trust deficit”.
“We all know of a case where the recording of a vulnerable woman walking down O’Connell Street in a distressed state – that recording was shared amongst members of An Garda Síochána,” he said.
Mr Ó Ríordáin said some sensitive material gardaí are privy to is not treated with “the delicacy that it should be treated with”.
“We have to be absolutely clear that whatever recorded material comes from body cameras is going to be treated with a lot of regulation and safeguards, and penalties for anybody who transgresses that,” he said.
Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny noted that the Irish Council for Civil Liberties had strong opposition to aspects of the Bill and there would have to be due consideration of this.