Czech, Polish and German rights groups criticize plan for facial recognition at border

German privacy and digital rights organization Digitalcourage together with Czech partner organization IURE and the Polish Panoptykon Foundation have issued a statement strongly criticizing the plan to deploy automated facial recognition in the border region of the German federal state of Saxony, the Czech Republic and Poland.

Saxon state parliament was set to debate and vote on the measure in late January but it has been postponed to March 2019.

According to the statement, the surveillance area is intended to cover 30–50% of the entire state of Saxony and includes practically the entire districts of Görlitz, Sächsische Schweiz-Osterzgebirge, Erzgebirgskreis, plus large parts of the Vogtlandkreis and Mittelsachsen districts. The area defined as ‘border region’ stretches into the cities of Dresden and Chemnitz.

“The planned border surveillance places large parts of Saxony under some sort of state of emergency, and it is a statement of distrust toward our Czech and Polish neighbors,” Digitalcourage spokesperson Friedemann Ebelt explains. “Paragraph 12 of the Saxon Constitution requires that we work together across the borders – not to police them with automated preventive systems. Digitalcourage observes with great concern that with these changes, the Saxon Judiciary and Police will take on characteristics of a preventive state”

“From the point of view of Czech citizens, we perceive the plans for camera systems along the border and 30 km into Germany as a threat,” added IuRe lawyer Jan Vobořil. “Even if the stated goal is to fight cross-border crime, we should not overlook the fact that it is a major violation of the rights of everyone who crosses the border.”

“The use of facial recognition systems means that every person is treated as potentially suspect. These plans signal a lack of trust between Polish and German police officers,” said Wojciech Klicki, legal analyst at the Polish Panoptykon Foundation. “These kind of systems are essentially nothing but mass surveillance of the local population and of commuters from Poland.”

Digitalcourage noted that the Saxon Interior Ministry has not responded to the questions posed by them regarding the planned changes in law nor is there any sign that the required privacy impact assessment for the new police law has been made.

The organization has called for the government to halt the proposed legislation – “especially since due diligence has to be given absolute priority in a legislative process that would lead to such grave incursions into people’s fundamental rights.”

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