European Digital Rights (EDRi) is asking the European Union to ban all forms of biometric mass surveillance. The organization’s latest paper also calls for the suspension of any such programs that are already in place, noting that biometric surveillance is currently being explored in at least 15 EU member states.
EDRi is a digital rights collective that includes 44 civil and digital rights organizations, all of which signed off on the latest missive. They argue that biometric surveillance would violate people’s fundamental right to privacy, increase civic mistrust, suppress freedom of expression, and lead to widespread discrimination.
“Accepting intrusive biometric mass surveillance in our public spaces means accepting that our bodies and faces can and will be recorded as if we were in a perpetual police lineup,” said EDRi Policy Head Diego Naranjo. “If companies or governments can deploy such technology, we risk increased population control and manipulation without our knowledge, as well as a deepening of power imbalances and lack of accountability.”
The organization is asking the EU and its member states to pass legislation that explicitly bans the use of biometric mass surveillance, and to drop any legislation that would legalize it. It is also asking governments to stop providing funds for the testing or development of surveillance technology, and to disclose the use of any technologies that could be leveraged for those ends.
“The COVID-19 pandemic provides a stark example of what it feels like to live with limited freedoms,” added EDRi Policy and Campaigns Officer Ella Jakubowska. “Biometric mass surveillance in public spaces would make such emergency states of suspicion a permanent feature of public life.”
While the European Union was reportedly considering a temporary facial recognition ban earlier in the year, those plans were eventually dropped from the final draft of a European Commission white paper. Facial recognition bans have already been passed in several U.S. municipalities, including Cambridge and San Francisco.
Of course, EDRi is not the only watchdog calling for limits on biometric surveillance. Fight for the Future and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have also asked legislators to restrict the use of facial recognition.
May 15, 2020 – by Eric Weiss