Ireland’s leading human rights watchdog is concerned about a digital registration bill that would significantly expand the national police’s biometric surveillance powers. The new omnibus bill would allow police to use drones and body cameras, and use CCTV footage and license plate recognition devices in more situations.

The problem, according to Sinéad Gibney, head of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), 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 (National Police) will have at their disposal, or even whether or not the police are authorized to collect and use biometric data from Irish civilians.

In this regard, Gibney said he was particularly concerned about voice-enabled smart home devices like Amazon Alexa, which constantly listen to the voices of people in private residences. She noted that police have used such devices to collect evidence in other jurisdictions, even though doing so could violate people’s right to privacy in their own homes.

Gibney is calling on lawmakers to tighten the language of the bill to close those loopholes and prevent potential abuses of modern recording technology. IHREC wants them to clarify whether or not facial recognition and other forms of biometric processing are allowed under the new law, and provide more details on how the Garda will store the information it collects. The Commission also wants to know who will have access to the storage system and what safeguards will be put in place to ensure that the Garda does not use personal information in a way that infringes people’s civil liberties.

IHREC’s fears echo those of other watchdog groups internationally. In the past few months alone, the UK’s Biometrics and CCTV Commissioner has argued that 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. .

Sources: Irish Legal News and The Irish Times

April 19, 2022 – by Eric Weiss