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European Commissioner calls for strict regulation of facial recognition to preserve freedom of assembly

European countries should strictly regulate the use of facial recognition and ensure legislative frameworks for AI systems processing biometric data, according to recommendations released by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights.

The 29-page report “Unboxing Artificial Intelligence: 10 steps to protect Human Rights” focuses on 10 main areas for action, including human rights impact assessments, public consultations, independent oversight, data protection and privacy, and the promotion of AI literacy. It also defines biometric data as sensitive personal data on the same level as political opinions, religious beliefs, and data concerning health status or sex life.

“Ensuring that human rights are strengthened and not undermined by artificial intelligence is one of the key factors that will define the world we live in,” says Commissioner Dunja Mijatović.

The recommendations are based on previous work by the Council of Europe on the ethics of AI systems in judicial use, AI and data protection, the manipulative capabilities of algorithmic processes, and automated data processing, as well as the United Nations Special Rapporteur’s report on promoting and protecting freedom of opinion and expression. After delivering recommendations in the 10 key areas, the report provides a checklist of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” for each.

“DO strictly regulate the use of facial recognition technology to allow effective exercise of the right to freedom of assembly,” the report advises. Personal data should also be held in a form that permits identification for no longer than necessary, according to the recommendations.

The European Council (EC), meanwhile, adopted a regulatory framework for aggregating the biometric data held in justice and home affairs systems earlier this month.

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