MEPs call for ban on mass surveillance technologies

6 Oct 2021

Image: © Alexander/

The European Parliament has backed a ban on facial recognition tools and biometric mass surveillance tech, after appeals from numerous groups.

The European Parliament has called for a ban on biometric mass surveillance technologies, such as facial recognition tools.

On 5 October, the parliament discussed a report on the use of artificial intelligence in criminal law, citing the threat these technologies present to human rights.

German MEP Patrick Breyer of the European Pirate Party and shadow rapporteur of the report hailed it as a “breakthrough for the movement to stop biometric mass surveillance in Europe”.

Breyer mentioned the European Citizens’ Initiative ‘Reclaim Your Face’ campaign which, he said, has “long called for a ban on these highly intrusive and error-prone technologies in public spaces”.

“This vote sends a strong message to the lawmakers and governments negotiating the future Artificial Intelligence Act,” he added. The parliament is due to make a final decision on the upcoming AI Act.

MEPs also called for a ban on private facial recognition databases, such as Clearview AI. Earlier this year, it was reported that Canada had outlawed the controversial US company after it violated domestic privacy laws by collecting facial images of Canadians without their consent.

Previous appeals

The parliament’s call echoes an earlier appeal by Europe’s data protection regulators, who called for a ban on facial recognition technology in public spaces in June of this year. The regulators issued their appeal in response to the European Commission’s proposed regulations, which initially did not go as far as recommending a complete ban.

Last month, the UN’s human rights chief raised concerns over the potentially “catastrophic” effects AI technologies can have if they are used without sufficient regards for human rights.

Michelle Bachelet called for a moratorium on the sale and use of such technologies until such a time as safeguards could be put in place.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

Blathnaid O’Dea was a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic until 2024.