EU data protection authorities call for ban on facial recognition in public spaces

So far, the EU Commission wants to allow the use of facial recognition systems for certain purposes. (Source: Pixabay)

The European Data Protection Supervisor and the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) are calling for a Europe-wide ban on artificial intelligence (AI) for the automated identification of people in public spaces. In a joint statement published on Monday, they warn against encroaching on people’s fundamental rights.

The cause for this statement is a planned EU regulation (in German) on the use of artificial intelligence, which the EU Commission presented in April. While the draft includes a ban on biometric recognition processes in public spaces, it also stipulates equally far-reaching exceptions, for example in the search for victims of a criminal offence or terrorist threats.

In their statement, data protection authorities generally welcome the goal of regulating the use of AI systems within the EU. However, remote biometric identification poses “extremely high risks”. Therefore, systems for the automated recognition of human characteristics in publicly accessible spaces should generally be banned. These include, for example, facial recognition, but also systems that recognise people based on their gait, fingerprints, voice, DNA or keystroke.

No social scoring

AI systems that use biometric data to classify people into groups based on their ethnicity, gender or political or sexual orientation should also be banned. Any kind of so-called social scoring, i.e. the overall evaluation of the behaviour of individual persons, should also be prohibited. The planned EU regulation only provides for a ban on social scoring by the state.

Data protection authorities also call for a ban on artificial intelligence to recognise people’s emotions. However, there could be exceptions for this technology in certain areas, for example for medical purposes.

Encroachment on fundamental rights

EDPB Chair Andrea Jelinek and European Data Protection Supervisor Wojciech Wiewiórowski warn that the use of remote biometric recognition in public spaces heralds “the end of anonymity”. Furthermore: “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.” In order to preserve these freedoms, a general ban is the necessary approach.

The Federal Commissioner for Data Protection Ulrich Kelber stated (in German): “We do not want AI in the grey area of fundamental rights. I advocate for a ban on AI, because this system opposes our fundamentally free democratic understanding.”

Data protection authorities are also concerned that the planned AI Regulation will not apply to international law enforcement cooperation. The regulation also introduces a new “European Artificial Intelligence Board”, which is meant to support national authorities in legal issues. Data protection authorities criticise that the EU Commission is to take a “predominant role” in it, as the committee must be independent of any political influence.

Organisations call for ban on biometric surveillance

As recently as the beginning of June, 175 renowned organisations had called for an international ban on biometric surveillance in public places (in German). They warn that the technology undermines human rights and civil liberties – “including the right to privacy and data protection, the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of assembly and association […] and the right to equality and non-discrimination”.

Politicians and legislators should ban biometric surveillance on principle. Law enforcement agencies, border security and intelligence services should also no longer be allowed to use biometric surveillance. Furthermore, the organisations demand that no more public funds be spent on such technologies.

The European citizens’ initiative “Reclaim Your Face” (in German) also wants to achieve a Europe-wide ban on biometric surveillance. Their goal is to collect a total of one million signatures in at least seven EU countries within one year. Then the EU Commission will have to deal with the coalition’s demand. (js)