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AI Act: EU governments open door for biometric mass surveillance in public spaces

Europaparlament European Parliament Freedom, democracy and transparency Freiheit, Demokratie und Transparenz Nicht kategorisiert Press releases

Today the ministers of the 27 Member States agreed on a general approach (i.e. a common position) on the future AI Act – the EU law that will regulate artificial intelligence technology and, crucially, the use of it for biometric mass surveillance. The general approach, which will be the Council’s negotiation mandate for trilogues with the European Parliament, is extremely weak when it comes to the use of AI for mass surveillance purposes, criticises Member of the European Parliament Patrick Breyer (Pirate Party, Greens/EFA group):

“The position adopted today would enable a dystopian future of biometric mass surveillance in Europe, potentially exposing everybody to constant identification, monitoring their behaviour and analysing their emotions in public spaces. It would justify the permanent and ubiquitious deployment of face surveillance to look for the thousands of ‚victims‘, ‚threats‘ and suspects of ‚serious crime‘ that are wanted at any time. We must not normalise a culture of suspicion and side with authoritarian regimes which use AI for repression of civil society, for social scoring, human rights violations, and total surveillance.

With error rates (false positives) of up to 99%, ineffective facial surveillance technology bares no resemblance to the targeted search that governments are trying to present it as. There is not a single example of real-time biometric surveillance preventing a terrorist attack, finding ‘missing children’ or such like.

We must stand up against biometric mass surveillance in our public spaces because these technologies wrongfully report large numbers of innocent citizens, systematically discriminate against under-represented groups and have a chilling effect on a free and diverse society. People who constantly feel watched and under surveillance cannot freely and courageously stand up for their rights and for a just society.

Legislation allowing for indiscriminate mass surveillance has consistently been annulled by the courts due to their incompatibility with fundamental rights. We must stand up for a society of trust and rights, not one of suspicion and division. Mass surveillance has no place in our society, and we will fight for a ban in the EU Parliament!“

The negotiations are heated in the parliament, where a center-left majority supports an ambitious ban on biometric mass surveillance covering both public and private spaces, both ‘in real time’ and ‘ex post’ recognition, extending to emotion recognition and crowd control.

The public opinion does not support the weak approach adopted today by the Council (cf. a YouGov representative survey 10 EU countries, March 2021).