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AI Act threatens to make facial surveillance commonplace in Europe

European Parliament Freedom, democracy and transparency Press releases

In the final stage of negotiations on the EU’s AI Act, it has become known that even the publicly announced limitation of the controversial facial recognition technology to the prosecution of serious criminal offences has since fallen. Digital freedom fighter and Member of the European Parliament Patrick Breyer (Pirate Party) warns that the law paves the way for the introduction of biometric mass surveillance in Europe where EU governments decide to steer this course.

“With this AI law, it appears the EU intends to compete with China not only technologically but also in terms of high-tech repression. The fact that error-prone facial recognition applied to CCTV recordings is being green-lighted for petty offences falls short of the EU Parliament’s own press release. This will make it possible for cities to oust homeless people under the heading of ‘trespassing’, as happened in Como, Italy, or to prosecute sprayers for ‘damaging property’. Even the highly controversial facial recognition among demonstrators, such as after the G20 summit in Hamburg, is not being excluded. On the basis of these rules, facial recognition and chilling effect that comes with it, threatens to become a standard instrument in Europe, too.

The EU’s AI Act even opens the door to permanent facial surveillance in real time: Over 6,000 people are wanted by European arrest warrant for the offences listed in the AI Act. Any public space in Europe can therefore be placed under permanent biometric mass surveillance on these grounds. This law legitimises and normalises a culture of mistrust. It leads Europe into a dystopian future of a mistrustful high-tech surveillance state.”