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“Reclaim Your Face”: European Citizens’ Initiative against biometric mass surveillance launched today

Pirate Party MEP Patrick Breyer calls for signing the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) “Reclaim Your Face”. The initiative advocates for a ban on biometric mass surveillance in public spaces within the EU. One million signatures within one year are needed to make the European Commission consider the proposal for a ban on biometric mass surveillance.

“The identification and tracking of citizens using biometric identifiers brings mass surveillance in public spaces to a new level”, comments Breyer. “Surveillance technologies based on the analysis of our individual body characteristics, such as facial features or movement patterns, turn us into walking barcodes that can be scanned anytime and anywhere. Due to constant automated detection and the reporting of conspicuous behaviour, it also generates adaptation pressure that is incompatible with our fundamental rights. ‘Reclaim Your Face’ now provides citizens with the opportunity to increase pressure on the inactive EU Commission and push for an EU-wide ban. In order to succeed, we need lots and lots of signatures.”

Some EU member states are already experimenting with the use of biometric surveillance technologies, such as the use of facial recognition software in public places. By making use of so-called ‘Artificial Intelligence’, it is possible for authorities to identify individuals and accurately track their whereabouts. Captured body features are simultaneously compared with entries in global databases to, for example, search for known criminals. A trial conducted by the German Federal Police at Berlin’s Südkreuz train station showed that because of this unreliable technology, 99 out of 100 of the people reported as “hits” were innocent and wrongly suspected of having committed a crime.

Human rights organizations also warn against the use of biometric surveillance technologies because of their discriminatory potential. Algorithms used for facial recognition come with particularly high error rates when recognizing non-white persons [1]. In the USA, there have already been arrests of innocent citizens on the basis of biometric surveillance technologies [2]. Numerous states have therefore passed laws banning facial recognition technologies. In the European Union, there is no such legislation yet. However, the EU Commission has announced that it will propose legislation on Artificial Intelligence in April. Breyer appeals:

“The European Union must recognize the dangers that the use of biometric mass surveillance entails. With the upcoming legislation regulating artificial intelligence, the Commission has the chance to heed the numerous warnings of civil society and human rights organizations and to ban the use of these extremely error-prone technologies.”

The European Citizens’ Initiative “Reclaim Your Face” is calling on the European Commission to come forward with a legislative proposal to ban biometric mass surveillance technologies. The initiative is open for signatures for one year and can be supported via the “Reclaim Your Face” website.

In the European Parliament, Breyer’s Greens/EFA group is campaigning for the political implementation of such a ban by, amongst other things, organizing events and commissioning expert studies.

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