The Council of Europe is asking national lawmakers to implement much stricter facial recognition regulations. To that end, the organization has released a set of guidelines that are intended to protect the privacy rights of individual European citizens.
While those guidelines would allow the (heavily regulated) use of facial recognition in some situations, the Council recommends that other applications should be banned entirely. Most notably, the organization wants to prohibit the use of facial recognition systems that exist solely to identify members of certain demographic groups. For example, governments would not be allowed to use face tech to watch for people of a particular skin color, or to track members of specific religious groups.
Sex, age, and health would be some of the other proscribed characteristics. The guidelines would also prohibit solutions designed to evaluate someone’s inner emotional state or personality traits, as well as those that attempt to measure an employee’s engagement level at work. The Council argues that those technologies could lead to discrimination and be leveraged to deny people access to certain educational, insurance, and employment opportunities.
“At its best, facial recognition can be convenient, helping us navigate obstacles in our everyday lives. At its worst, it threatens our essential human rights, empowering state authorities and others to monitor and control important aspects of our lives – often without our knowledge or consent,” said Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić. “These guidelines ensure the protection of people’s personal dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the security of their personal data.”
The guidelines were developed by the Consultative Committee of the Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data, which gathered input from 55 member and 20 observer states. The Council of Europe itself represents the interests of 47 member countries.
The European Union has considered a facial recognition ban in the past, although it is yet to move forward with any meaningful legislation. Meanwhile, the Chinese companies Huaweii and Megvii recently came under fire for developing a system that could be used to identify members of the country’s minority Uighur Muslim population.