Ireland’s top human rights watchdog is raising concerns about a proposed digital recording bill that would dramatically expand the national police force’s biometric surveillance powers. The new omnibus bill would allow the police to use drones and body cameras, and to use CCTV footage and license plate recognition devices in more situations.
The problem, according to Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) chief Sinéad Gibney, is that the bill is too broad in scope, and does not do enough to address other emerging forms of recording technology. As a result, it is not at all clear what technologies the An Garda Síochána (the national police) will have at their disposal, or even whether or not the police are allowed to collect and use the biometric data of Irish civilians.
In that regard, Gibney expressed particular concern about voice-activated smart home devices like Amazon Alexa, which are constantly listening to the voices of people in private residences. She noted that the police have used such devices to capture evidence in other jurisdictions, even though doing so could violate people’s right to privacy in their own homes.
Gibney is asking lawmakers to tighten up the language of the bill to close up those loopholes, and to prevent potential abuses of modern recording technology. The IHREC wants them to clarify whether or not facial recognition and other forms of biometric processing are permitted under the new law, and to provide more details about how the Garda will be storing any information that it does collect. The Commission also wants to know who will have access to the storage system, and what safeguards will be put in place to make sure the Garda are not using personal information in a manner that infringes on people’s civil liberties.
The IHREC’s fears echo those of other watchdog groups internationally. In the past few months alone, the UK’s Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner has argued that the police should not be able to use facial recognition to identify witnesses, while Amnesty International has tried to raise awareness of the biased distribution of surveillance cameras in New York City.
April 19, 2022 – by Eric Weiss