Use of facial recognition tech could lead to ‘dystopian surveillance society’

Use of facial recognition tech could lead to ‘dystopian surveillance society’

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties said it strongly opposes the bill.

The use of facial recognition technology poses an “extreme risk” and could lead to a “dystopian surveillance society”, a digital expert and civil liberties group have warned. 

It comes as An Garda Síochána are to get new powers to use facial-recognition technology (FRT) as a possible amendment to the forthcoming An Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Bill.

It is thought the technology would be used, along with artificial intelligence and expanded surveillance, to allow rapid identification of criminals.

However, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) said it strongly opposes the use of such technology for law enforcement and in public spaces, due to the “extreme risk” to rights it poses.

“A person’s face is permanently and irrevocably linked to a person’s identity. Our position aligns with a wider European movement to ban the use of FRT by law enforcement,” a spokesperson said.

The group stressed that it was “particularly concerned” given An Garda Síochána’s “poor record” on data protection.

“Additionally, neither An Garda Síochána nor the Department of Justice have shown any demonstration that using FRT is either necessary or proportionate — a legal requirement under human rights law,” it added.

Separately, an assistant professor at the UCD Centre for Digital policy has said the use of facial recognition technology by An Garda Síochána would move Ireland further toward a ‘dystopian’ surveillance society.

Asst Prof Elizabeth Farries says FRT is unlikely to accomplish the goal An Garda Síochána has set out.

“From a digital policy perspective, there’s evidence that policing facial recognition tech actually makes society less safe. 

It doesn’t accomplish the goal that guards are seeking.

“It’s not accurate, it can be discriminatory — and it moves us further towards a surveillance society that is somewhat dystopian in character,” she told  Newstalk Breakfast.

Ms Farries says there is evidence that the use of similar systems in other countries has faced serious issues using this technology and said the UK Met Police FRT system was found to have an error rate of 81%.

Damien McCarthy, Garda Representative Association delegate for Dublin Metropolitan Region, South Central Division told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show that such technology would provide a “very positive” advantage when tackling serious crime and could speed up the process saving “thousands of hours” sifting through CCTV footage.

Mr McCarthy said that the technology would be operated to the highest professional standards, and if there was a breach of data protection it could be immediately addressed.

“The new technology would allow gardaí to tackle cybercrime, especially in the area of child exploitation as at present there was a three-year backlog of devices that had not yet been accessed, which meant, potentially, there were victims out there who had not yet been identified and helped,” he added.

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