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Historic vote: EU Parliament to ban biometric mass surveillance

Artificial Intelligence European Parliament Freedom, democracy and transparency Press releases

Strasbourg, 14/06/2023 – Today, the European Parliament voted to ban real-time facial surveillance in public spaces in the EU’s new Artificial Intelligence Act (AI Act). Automated behavioural surveillance, on the other hand, is not to be banned (277:306:38 votes). With this position, the European Parliament enters trilogue negotiations with EU governments on the final legislation.

EU lawmaker and digital freedom fighter Patrick Breyer (Pirate Party) comments:

“Even if we were not able to secure a majority for a ban on automated behavioural surveillance: The fact that the European Parliament is pushing for a ban on real-time face surveillance in public spaces is a historic success for the civil rights movement and a clear vote against a dystopian future of Chinese-style biometric mass surveillance in Europe. After all, biometric real-time surveillance has never been able to prevent a terrorist attack, as advocates would have us believe. With false alarm rates as high as 99%, these technologies are not nearly reliable enough to be of any use. These technologies systematically discriminate against underrepresented groups and have a chilling effect on a free and diverse society. 

„The ‘exceptions’ demanded by EU governments and the Commission would effectively remove the ban, as there are always many people who are wanted by judicial warrant. To look even for a single person, facial surveillance would still have to be applied on everyone – which is exactly what mass surveillance is. Worse, such exceptions are used by governments as ‘instruction manuals’ to legitimise new mass surveillance laws.

„People who feel constantly watched and monitored cannot freely and courageously stand up for their rights and for a just society. In the upcoming negotiations with EU governments, we must fight for a Europe free of dystopian mass surveillance.”

In the run-up, a petition of 250,000 citizens had called for a ban on error-prone and discriminatory facial surveillance.

Plenary speech by Patrick Breyer yesterday

Failed motion to ban automated behavioural surveillance: