Germany planning to deploy facial recognition surveillance at airports and train stations

November 1, 2016 - 

German Interior Ministry Thomas de Maiziere is looking to test facial recognition video surveillance in the country’s train stations, according to newly leaked documents cited in a report by DW.

The use of facial recognition software is part of a draft law to increase video surveillance in public spaces across the country that the cabinet plans to pass later this month.

The ministry said it is in talks with the federal police and rail operator Deutsche Bahn “to test the use of intelligent video analysis technology in one pilot train station,” adding that it could not state when the pilot would begin, or what the “implementation possibilities of these systems” are.

De Maiziere said in August that German security officials would use facial recognition technology to find terrorist suspects.

“Private citizens are able to photograph someone and then use facial recognition software to find out on the internet whether they’ve just seen a celebrity or a politician,” De Maiziere said. “I would like to use that kind of facial recognition software in video cameras in airports and train stations.”

The interior minister’s planned use of facial recognition technology has already seen a backlash from privacy advocates.

German data privacy lawyer Christian Solmecke said the technology represents a “massive invasion on the right to informational self-determination, and there is simply no legal basis for its use.”

He said that the facial recognition plans would result in the recording of every single face and matching it with all the photos from a database, which “raises the question on what data this kind of facial recognition system would be based and what data would be stored.”

Solmecke also added there is a significant legal difference between a database containing the information of people currently being sought for specific crimes and databases containing the data of general “suspects” – the latter, he said, often includes profiles of innocent individuals.

The German government said that while it does not currently have facial image databases to be used for the technology, it is not opposed to establishing one.

Currently, the federal police have access to about 6,400 cameras owned by Deutsche Bahn, along with 1,730 cameras installed at Germany’s five largest airports.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.