McEntee: New laws allowing gardaí to wear body cameras will be ‘hugely helpful’ 

McEntee: New laws allowing gardaí to wear body cameras will be ‘hugely helpful’ 

Ronan Slevin, Deputy General secretary, GRA and Frank Thornton, outgoing GRA president, listen as Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee addresses the 44th annual GRA conference in Westport, Co  Mayo. Picture: Conor Ó Mearáin 

New legislation to be brought before the Dáil shortly will pave the way for gardaí to use body-worn cameras and strengthen provisions around the use of CCTV footage and Automatic Number plate Recognition (ANR).

Justice Minister Helen McEntee said this “will be hugely helpful” in providing gardaí with more tools to do their job effectively.

She said the Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Bill— previously known as the Digital Recordings Bill — is expected to be taken at second stage in the Dáil by the end of next month.

Ms McEntee added 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.

She is also to seek Cabinet approval to introduce legislation allowing gardaí to use facial recognition technology for investigations into crimes such as murder, child sex abuse and exploitation, and missing persons cases.

Ms McEntee told delegates attending the Garda Representative Association (GRA) conference she doesn’t agree with people who want such technology banned as there are occasions when the interests of public safety, fighting crime and national security must override the absolute right to privacy.

Ms McEntee said the force’s international law enforcement partners, such as Europol, Interpol, the UK National Crime Agency, and the US National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, already use such technology.

She said to co-operate effectively with these organisations, gardaí must have the proper tools for doing so, such as facial recognition technology.

Safeguards, she said, will be built into the proposed legislation and there will be full compliance with GDPR and the Data Protection Act of 2018.

These safeguards will include a full human rights and data protection impact assessment of the use of new technologies.

Ms McEntee said facial recognition won’t be used for indiscriminate surveillance, mass data gathering, or racial profiling. It will be used in very clearly defined circumstances to help gardaí search CCTV and video footage.

It will be used to support gardaí and will not replace investigative decisions made by individual gardaí. She emphasised it will be a supporting tool only.

The technology will be used, for example, where gardaí have a photo of a suspectand currently need to manually trawl through hundreds of hours of CCTV – as has happened in certain murder cases. It would allow gardaí to carry out an automated search in these instances, a process which could take just minutes and would also be beneficial in cases of child exploitation.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said facial recognition technology “is a very necessary tool in modern policing” and welcomed the drawing up of legislation to enact its use.

Ms McEntee also told delegates she's looking at “minimum sentencing” for people who attack members of the emergency services.

The GRA has been calling for tougher action on this, especially as there has been a notable increase in recent years in violent attacks on frontline members of the force.

The GRA has also been calling for an increase in garda numbers, beyond the 15,000 committed to by the Government. The GRA says there should be 17,000 gardaí.

Ms McEntee said she’s looking at optimum numbers especially as the population of the country is increasing all the time.

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