Ireland’s Department of Social Protection (DSP) confirmed reports that it uses biometric processing and facial recognition technologies as a part of its public services card (PSC) program.
As The Irish Times reports, the department published a revised version of its privacy statement on Monday night in which it clarified that the biometric processing of photographs would be used to help identify cases of potential welfare fraud, with the processed photographs being used to create a template that would allow for comparisons with other images to detect identity theft or the double-claiming of benefits.
The previous version of the privacy statement did not mention the use of biometric or facial processing of any kind.
This prompted concerns among data protection and civil liberties advocates, who question the creation of a facial recognition database due to the potential privacy risks that come with it and a lack of legislation protecting citizens’ rights.
“The creation of a national database of facial recognition images, for which there’s no specific legislation and no safeguards in law, is very risky and could well be illegal,” said Fred Logue, a solicitor and data protection expert. “You have to balance that against the financial benefit, and you have to question whether it’s proportional.”
According to Oireachtas — the legislature of Ireland — facial recognition technology has been used to successfully identify 220 cases of suspected fraud since 2013, leading to EUR 4.74 million in savings during that time.
The use of biometric data as part of the PSC program has been controversial, with the outgoing Minister for Social Protection, Regina Doherty, previously saying that the department did not employ the technology or hold any biometric data.
“We’re not holding biometric data. And I can categorically say that that’s true, because the only thing we hold is your photograph,” Doherty said in an interview in 2017. She later repeated the statement in a tweet in the same year, writing: “We do not collect biometric data.”
In a statement on the matter of its changing position, the department said, “[We have] always been clear that, as part of the Safe Registration process, a standard photograph is taken and is used for two purposes. First, for use as a visual identity on the public service card – this photograph is not biometric. Second, as part of a separate process, a biometric template is produced from the photograph for the department’s own internal use.”
The department also confirmed the recent changes to its privacy statement, saying they were due to “deficiencies” that were identified through the Data Protection Commissioner’s recently completed investigation into the PSC program.
Source: The Irish Times
February 13, 2020 – by Tony Bitzionis