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Police consider facial recognition in Denmark, Sweden, Romania, but bias concerns persist



Copenhagen police could gain a “huge advantage” in investigations by implementing a biometric facial recognition system to scan footage from 300 new security cameras the government is proposing to give law enforcement, Danish outlet The Local reports.

Senior Inspector Jørgen Bergen Skov told local newspaper Berlingske that he has asked the government to give police more surveillance powers, and that he would like to use facial recognition.

“How it would work would initially be a political discussion, but nobody can be in doubt that it would be a huge advantage for investigations,” he told Berlingske.

Skov emphasized the amount of time and human resources that must be allocated to manually reconstruct events from video footage, and that police are only interested in the technology to investigate criminal cases.

“I don’t want to neglect anyone’s feelings. I think it’s important that we have this discussion. That’s also why I agreed to this interview: first and foremost, I want to say that (surveillance) is an important resource for the police… we need it to solve serious crimes,” he said.

While Skov declined to comment on whether he has asked for facial recognition capabilities for the proposed new cameras, but did note that the proposals do not include a tender for facial recognition.

Swedish police, meanwhile, have requested an advanced consultation with the country’s Data Protection Authority to work out the rules it will be expected to follow for its facial recognition system.

The police’s interest in the technology is legitimate, the National Forensic Center is allowed to handle personal data in the proposed manner, and the police have established appropriate data protection measures, but must still determine how long facial biometrics will be stored for, according to an announcement by the Swedish Data Protection Authority.

“It is important for the police to decide how long the data can be stored before they start sharp with the facial recognition because it is important from the integrity point of view,” says Swedish Data Protection Authority Lawyer Linda Olander, as translated by Google.

The plans of the General Inspectorate of the Romanian Police to implement a facial recognition system have drawn an open letter from several non-governmental organizations criticizing the plan, and saying it violates existing laws, dpo-NET.ro reports.

The letter, co-signed by the Association of Specialists in Privacy and Data Protection, the Association for Technology and Internet (ApTI), the Association for the Protection of Privacy, and the Association for the Respect of Human Rights, makes 8 requests, including the cancellation of the procurement. The groups emphasize that they are not against the implementation of new security technology, but say that the decision to implement a mass monitoring system was taken without the required risk assessment processes.

“The drafting of the Tender Specification disregarding the obligations for the establishment of adequate guarantees for the rights and freedoms of the persons will result in the acquisition of a facial recognition system that cannot be used under legal conditions,” according to the letter. “The General Inspectorate of the Romanian Police, under the subordination of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, should have conducted an impact analysis before starting any action related to the processing of personal data, such as the purchase of the software application, and to include fundamental criteria to ensure compliance with the principles ‘privacy by design’ and ‘privacy by default.’”

U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Commissioner Rohit Chopra says that few of its 2012 recommendations for facial recognition practices have been adopted by vendors, and said in an interview reported by dpo-NET.ro that the technology can reinforce biases against racial and ethnic minorities.

The data protection community, including Chopra, is gathering in Tirana, Albania for the 41st International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (ICDPPC). Chopra mentioned facial recognition as a potential threat to civil rights when asked about the most pressing privacy and data protection issues of the day.

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