EU registers citizens’ initiative seeking ban on mass surveillance technology

7 Jan 2021

Image: © Leszek/

A citizens’ initiative will have one year to raise support for a proposal to ban widespread public use of technologies such as facial recognition.

A European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) entitled ‘Civil society initiative for a ban on biometric mass surveillance practices’ has been officially registered by the European Commission.

Operating as the Reclaim Your Face campaign, this group demands transparency in how facial recognition tools are being used by authorities and companies across Europe.

Reclaim Your Face is supported by the European Digital Rights (EDRi) association, which challenged plans for public biometric surveillance included in the Security Union package presented by the European Commission in December.

“A worrying example is the plan in the Counter Terrorism Agenda to deploy face recognition technologies in public spaces to identify ‘potential threats’,” said the EDRi in a statement.

“Although the commission announces that the use of these technologies will happen in what it describes as a ‘well-defined, targeted and proportioned manner’, the wording in the agenda clearly suggests that the goal is to introduce wide use of face recognition in public spaces, which will amount to unacceptable biometric mass surveillance.”

The organisers of the initiative to ban biometric mass surveillance are calling for the European Commission to propose legal measures that will end indiscriminate and arbitrarily targeted uses of biometric data in ways that can lead to mass surveillance or any undue interference with fundamental rights.

What is an ECI?

The ECI was introduced with the Lisbon Treaty and officially launched in April 2012.

Its purpose is to give citizens of the EU the ability to propose legal acts for the European Commission to consider. Registered initiatives must first gather enough support for their cause before the commission will consider it.

In order to become a registered ECI, the proposed action must fall within the framework of the commission’s powers and it must not be deemed abusive, frivolous, vexatious or contrary to the values of the EU.

Next steps for the proposed ban

The initiative for a ban on biometric mass surveillance practices has met the necessary conditions to be legally admissible as an ECI, according to the European Commission.

Though it has been officially registered, the substance of the initiative’s proposal has not yet been analysed by the commission. But now that it is registered, the ECI’s organisers can begin collecting signatures of support. They will have one year to collect 1m statements of support from at least seven different EU member states, at which point the European Commission will have to respond.

The commission will not have to act on the request if the ECI meets this target, but it will have to explain its reasoning for any decision made.

Since the beginning of the ECI, 76 initiatives have been registered. The commission has refused 26 of these citizens’ requests.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.