EU data watchdogs call for facial recognition ban in public spaces

21 Jun 2021

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The group of regulators believe the EU’s proposed rules for AI do not go far enough in banning live facial recognition in public places.

Europe’s data protection regulators have called for a ban on facial recognition in public places.

The recommendation comes from the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) and the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) on behalf of Europe’s data protection watchdogs.

It is in response to the European Commission’s proposed regulations on artificial intelligence, which laid out a series of proposals on the use of AI based on risk and did not go as far as banning live facial recognition in public places. Instead, it deemed this technology “high risk” but still allowed in certain circumstances.

The EDPB and the EDPS said that the risk of this technology is too high. They are calling for a general ban on the use of AI for automated recognition of biometric features in publicly accessible spaces. This includes facial images as well as gait, fingerprints and other identifiers.

Wojciech Wiewiórowski, the European data protection supervisor, and EDPB chair Andrea Jelinek said in a joint statement that allowing such technology to be used freely in public spaces would be “the end of anonymity in those places”.

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“Applications such as live facial recognition interfere with fundamental rights and freedoms to such an extent that they may call into question the essence of these rights and freedoms. This calls for an immediate application of the precautionary approach,” they said.

“A general ban on the use of facial recognition in publicly accessible areas is the necessary starting point if we want to preserve our freedoms and create a human-centric legal framework for AI. The proposed regulation should also prohibit any type of use of AI for social scoring, as it is against the EU fundamental values and can lead to discrimination.”

While the EU proposals laid out in April mentioned banning the use of AI to create so-called social credit scores for people, today’s statement raises concerns that public facial recognition deployment is a path to those very systems.

The recommendation will be welcomed in some circles that have been pushing for stricter rules and bans governing live facial recognition use.

Bans have been considered by EU lawmakers in the past but have not come to fruition.

Jonathan Keane is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Dublin

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