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Resistance to biometric mass surveillance is growing

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The campaign for a ban on the controversial deployment of facial recognition systems in public spaces is gaining supporters: The European Parliament’s Rapporteur on the upcoming AI Act, Brando Benifei, last night spoke out for a ban at a high-level panel debate featuring the award winning director of ‘Coded Bias’, Shalini Kantayya; the European Data Protection Supervisor, Wojciech Wiewiórowski; MEP in the Greens/EFA group and shadow rapporteur for the Artificial Intelligence Act, Kim van Sparrentak; head of sector for artificial intelligence policy at  DG CNECT at the European Commission, Irina Orssich; and  EDRi policy officer and coordinator of the European Citizens’ Initiative “Reclaim Your Face”, Ella Jakubowska.

The discussion took place ahead of two important parliamentary decisions on the use of artificial intelligence in the European Union; next week’s plenary vote on Artifical Intelligence in criminal law and the upcoming Artificial Intelligence Act. It was organised as part of the Greens/EFA campaign to ban biometric mass surveillance in public spaces.

During the debate, European Data Protection Supervisor, Wojciech Wiewiórowski echoed the concerns of Patrick Breyer and of the Reclaim Your Face Initiative, that biometric mass surveillance in publicly accessible places could inhibit a diverse society and result in “chilling effects”. Rapporteur for the AI Act, Brando Benifei also shared concerns over the risk posed by biometric mass surveillance to fundamental rights, saying “In the hands of authorities of Member States where the rule of law and separation of powers might not be fully respected, [real-time biometric recognition in public spaces] can lead to massive abuses”. He went on to add that he supports the ban on biometric mass surveillance in publicly accessible spaces put forward by the European Commission in the proposed AI Act, but that the exceptions the Commission suggested are too wide. You can re-watch AI act Rapporteur, Brando Benifei’s intervention here.

The panel also discussed the topic of algorithmic bias, with Kim van Sparrentak expressing concern over the neutrality that is commonly attributed to algorithmic decisions: “We have created this myth that computers are always right, and that is something we really have to be careful of, especially in the justice system.” These concerns were echoed by Ella Jakubowska, who warned that uses of AI by law enforcement are further reinforcing patterns of discrimination and over-policing. She further highlighted that while many are calling to simply fix the biases in AI datasets, EDRi’s latest report reveals the limitations of trying to fix complex social problems with technology”. 

The event comes in the context of next week’s vote on the European Parliament’s report on  artificial intelligence in criminal law, which is expected to express the Parliament’s opposition to biometric mass surveillance[1] [2] , as well as in the context of an EDRi campaign urging European representatives to speak out against biometric mass surveillance at the EU-U.S. Trade Technology Council today. 

It also provides lawmakers and civil society with a chance to discuss the upcoming Artificial Intelligence Act, which will be decisive in shaping how artificial intelligence is used in Europe, and will give lawmakers a chance to vote to ban biometric mass surveillance throughout the Union. In the words of Shalini Kantayya  “We are in a pivotal moment in history where technologies of the future are outpacing laws that govern them […] It is my deep belief that conversations like this one can change the world. Europe is helping to set a global standard for how these technologies are used around the world”[3] [4] [5] 

Missed the event?

You can re-watch the panel debate here.

You can re-watch AI act Rapporteur, Brando Benifei’s intervention here.

Further Reading

Greens/EFA campaign against mass biometric surveillance:  stopbiometricsurveillance.eu  

Reclaim Your Face Citizen’s initiativereclaimyourface.eu

EDPS/EDPB statement asking for a ban of BMSclick here



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