The Green Party are ready to co-operate with gardaí’s use of Facial Recognition Technology (FRT), having blocked an effort to bring it in earlier this year.
The party demanded, and will now get, a standalone piece of legislation on the issue, thought to be weeks from draughting, that will have ‘safeguards’ to prevent real-time use of rolling CCTV monitoring of past offenders.
Green Party Minister Roderic O’Gorman publicly signalled the move yesterday, with sources saying negotiations during the summer had reached an understanding with Fine Gael.
Early versions of FRT in the United States have provided mismatches, leading to the wrong people being detained, with particular fears over racial profiling and any tendency to “round up the usual suspects” when searching footage in a bid to recognise a perpetrator.
But with thousands of hours of CCTV now to be “trawled through” in the words of Justice Minister Helen McEntee, the Greens are anxious not to be wrongfooted in the court of public opinion.
A spokesperson said: “The Green Party has always supported giving Gardaí access to cutting edge technology in order to fight crime —as long as the proper safeguards are in place.”
They pointed out the party had given its backing to the original bill to give gardaí the use of bodycams.
That legislation comes back from the Seanad into the Dáil on Wednesday and is likely to pass all stages.
Political sources expect an early signature motion to be attached when it is sent to the Áras for enactment by the President, who has discretion on whether to refer any Oireachtas legislation to the Council of State and then to the Supreme Court to test its Constitutionality.
The Greens said they had “agreed to a separate, stand-alone Bill that would allow for the retrospective use of Facial Recognition Technology in serious cases, provided this was subject to pre-legislative scrutiny.”
The phrase about retrospection refers to just such CCTV look-back after a crime or crimes have been committed, with Irish jurisprudence heavily weighted against the presumed commission of a future crime.
“We await full details of the extra categories of offences that Minister McEntee proposes to allow FRT be used to help investigate,” the spokesperson said.
Minister O’Gorman said on RTÉ radio: “This recognition technology is now a stand-alone Bill because it is a very powerful tool, and it’s an approved tool whose use needs safeguards. That will now happen, and that was always our position.
“We’re pleased to see the legislation on the use of bodycams for An Garda Síochána is now nearly through the Houses and will be enacted very shortly.
“We look forward to seeing the proposals from Minister McEntee in terms of the use of facial recognition technology,” he said on the News at One.
“I’m not sure where that is in drafting terms at the moment, but Minister McEntee has indicated that she intends to prioritise it and I’ve no doubt it will be before Cabinet fairly shortly and we look forward to examining it.”
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