Ireland faces fresh call to ban facial recognition tech for Gardaí

5 Jun 2024

Image: © Alexander/

Robert Williams, a man falsely arrested as a result of facial recognition tech, is speaking out against Ireland’s plans to adopt this technology.

Ireland’s Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, TD, is facing more pressure to halt plans to give facial recognition technology (FRT) to the Gardaí.

Robert Williams, a man who was falsely arrested after being misidentified by this technology, is speaking against Ireland’s plans to use FRT. Williams was arrested in front of his family in 2020 and detained for 30 hours.

He has spoken out against this technology in the US and will be speaking at a Dublin event today (5 June) about his experience. He claims the US is now trying to “undo the harms” done by facial recognition technology and that Ireland has an “opportunity not to introduce it in the first place”.

“My daughters can’t unsee me being handcuffed and put into a police car, but they can see me use this experience to bring some good into the world,” Williams said. “I hope your government will listen to experiences like mine and think twice before bringing FRT into policing.”

FRT lets users quickly identify human faces by comparing their images to existing databases. Supporters of the technology say it can help law enforcement spot criminals on CCTV faster and boost the speed of investigations.

There have been plans to make this technology available for the Gardaí and the Irish Government published a draft bill towards the end of 2023, one month after a group of people rioted in Dublin city centre.

But opponents of this technology say it can lead to the tech being misused by police, with concerns around increase levels of surveillance and false arrests similar to what happened to Williams. There are also concerns around racial bias – Williams said there are multiple US federal studies showing that FRT misidentifies black and Asian people far more than white people.

The event Williams is attending is being hosted by the Irish Council of Civil Liberties, which has spoken out against FRT for years. Another individual speaking at the free event will be Nathan Freed Wessler, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Freed Wessler said facial recognition technology is “dangerous when it fails and dangerous when it functions”.

“The technology is notoriously unreliable when used in real-world conditions, and in the US it is at the centre of at least seven known wrongful arrest cases,” he said. “And even if the technology worked better, it would still put a chilling power in the hands of police to identify and track anyone or everyone as we go about our lives.”

Find out how emerging tech trends are transforming tomorrow with our new podcast, Future Human: The Series. Listen now on Spotify, on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts.

Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic