EU considers five-year ban on public facial recognition tech

17 Jan 2020

Image: © Monopoly919/

Facial recognition tech in the EU may be banned for up to five years in order to develop an ethical framework for its use.

With a number of privacy and ethical concerns raised across the world by the roll-out of public facial recognition tech, the EU is considering a temporary ban on its use. According to Reuters, such a ban could last for up to five years, giving the EU enough time to draft legislation for its use and determine how to prevent any abuse of the technology.

The plan was drawn up in a white paper, with the European Commission (EC) saying tougher rules need to be in place to protect the privacy and data rights of EU citizens. However, the paper suggested that some exceptions could be made for security projects and further research.

“Building on these existing provisions, the future regulatory framework could go further and include a time-limited ban on the use of facial recognition technology in public spaces,” the paper’s authors wrote.

During the period of between three and five years when the ban would be in place, “a sound methodology for assessing the impacts of this technology and possible risk management measures could be identified and developed”.

‘Real-life Black Mirror stuff’

The document also goes on to propose that EU nations should appoint new authorities who would monitor any new laws put in place. It’s expected that the authors will seek feedback on the white paper ahead of making a final decision, with the EC’s executive vice-president and EU digital and antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, likely to present the proposal in February.

Both international governments and big tech have raised concerns over the use of facial recognition tech. Last November, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office called for a legal code of practice for the technology before it can be safely deployed by police forces.

Meanwhile, Microsoft called on the US government back in 2018 to regulate the technology in order to prevent its misuse. US politicians have recently raised similar concerns, with congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez describing it as “some real-life Black Mirror stuff”.

Elsewhere, China is doubling down on its efforts to integrate the technology into everyday life. Last month, a new law came into effect that requires all mobile phone users registering new SIM cards to have their face scanned.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic