Troubled Facebook software to tackle dole fraud

The country’s dole offices will next month begin rolling out a controversial computer technology that has landed Facebook in trouble with privacy chiefs here.

In its latest effort to weed out welfare cheats, the Department of Social Protection plan to begin using facial-matching software from the beginning of the new year. The software will use photographic identification supplied with all new claims to automatically detect any other claims made by that person.

The technology will also have the ability to compare the supplied image with images stored by other Government bodies such as photos taken for driving licences and passports. The department believes this will help to stamp out dole cheats’ ability to use forged or stolen identities to make multiple claims.

A spokeswoman for the department said: “Based on the current project plan, the facial image matching software will be rolled out for national usage in January.”

The technology will be used in conjunction with the new public service cards issued to claimants this year. Officials will be able to quickly check if the biometric photograph on the card matches the name or matches up with any other claims in the system.

According to the department, over 56,000 cards have been issued since the cards were introduced.

The department awarded the €212,000 contract to 3M Ireland to provide the facial-matching software.

Earlier this year, Facebook agreed to switch off its facial-matching feature following a wave of concerns about privacy and use of personal data.

The department said there were no plans to use the facial-matching software to snoop on claimant’s social networking pages — a practice commonly used in Britain to catch out potential welfare cheats.

Bogus welfare claims using fake identity documents have long being an expensive problem for the cash- strapped department, which had an overspend of €685m this year. The latest report of the Comptroller and Auditor General found the department was owed more than €343m in welfare overpayments due to fraud and error.

The department’s special investigations unit has the job of investigating serious social welfare abuse.

In a recent investigation, named Operation Filter, the specialist unit discovered a number of cases where fraudulent identities were used to claim social welfare payments. Resulting from the operation, 32 payments were stopped and disallowed in the North-East of the country.

In October of this year a 63-year-old Dublin man and his “scallywag” twin sons were spared jail terms over a dole fraud worth almost €25,000 in which one son posed as his brother.

In one of the biggest ever cases of welfare fraud here, Dublin-born Paul Murray, aged 64, was jailed in 2011 for 12-and-a-half years after swindling taxpayers out of €248,000 using nine different names in an elaborate international hoax.

He was only caught when his innocent brother applied for a passport and officials realised Murray had stolen his sibling’s identity.


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