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EU governments open the door for biometric mass surveillance in public spaces

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Today, the EU Council Presidency’s proposal for a regulation on the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) was leaked. Patrick Breyer, German Pirate Member of the European Parliament, warns that the proposal would open the door for biometric mass surveillance in public spaces on a broad scale:

„This proposal 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 need to prevent a China-style dystopian future of biometric mass surveillance in Europe! This technology is being abused by authoritarian countries such as Russia or Iran, is this the direction our governments want to take us?

With error rates (false positives) of up to 99%, ineffective facial surveillance technology bares no resemblance to the targeted search that proponents 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 other such events.

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. Legislation allowing for indiscriminate mass surveillance has consistently been annulled by the courts due to their incompatibility with fundamental rights. The European Parliament will need to fight to have this ban implemented in the AI Act!“

According to a representative survey conducted by YouGov in 10 EU countries, a majority of Europeans opposes biometric mass surveillance in public spaces.

The European Data Protection Board and European Data Protection Supervisor have called for a „general ban on any use of AI for an automated recognition of human features in publicly accessible spaces“ due to its „resulting in a direct negative effect on the exercise of freedom of expression, of assembly, of association as well as freedom of movement“.

More than 200 civil society organizations, activists, tech specialists, and other experts around the world are advocating a global ban on biometric recognition technologies that enable mass and discriminatory surveillance, arguing that „[t]hese tools have the capacity to identify, follow, single out, and track people everywhere they go, undermining our human rights and civil liberties“.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is also speaking out against the use of remote biometric recognition technologies in public spaces, referring to a „lack of compliance with privacy and data protection standards“, „significant accuracy issues“ and „discriminatory impacts“.

The European Parliament in a resolution voted in favour of a ban last year. Tomorrow an event on „Banning Biometric Mass Surveillance“ will take place in the European Parliament, bringing together high-level Members of the European Parliament.