A pair of European privacy watchdogs have argued that a recent policy proposal from the European Commission does not do enough to prevent the unethical use of facial recognition technology in Europe. The watchdogs are consequently calling for a complete facial recognition ban in public spaces throughout the European Union.
The draft proposal that the watchdogs are objecting to was first published back in April. The document does place severe restrictions on facial recognition, banning most forms of surveillance and threatening those that violate the law with massive fines that could be as high as six percent of a company’s revenues.
However, the European Commission proposal does grant a few noteworthy exceptions, including for border control and law enforcement. In the latter case, law enforcement agencies would not have access to a real-time surveillance network, but would be able to use public facial recognition while investigating serious crimes.
The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) and the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) believe that that does not adequately protect the civil liberties of European civilians. The watchdogs are therefore pushing for a law that prohibits all forms of remote biometric identification, covering modalities like gait, voice, and behavioral biometrics in addition to more traditional facial recognition.
“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,” said EDPB Chair Andrea Jelinek and EDPS Wojciech Wiewiorowski in a joint statement.
The two watchdogs are also asking lawmakers to ban any AI-based social scoring system, as well as any profiling system that classifies people based on traits like ethnicity or gender. The Commission’s current proposal allows companies to gather demographic and emotional data from their customers as long as they inform people when they are doing so. Emotion detection, meanwhile, would still be permitted for select applications like healthcare.
The European Union previously considered a temporary facial recognition ban in a white paper in early 2020, and the possibility would be raised again later in the year. The EDPB and EDPS demands echo similar requests from privacy watchdogs in Canada and the United States.
June 21, 2021 – by Eric Weiss