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EU rights agency urges authorities to seriously consider biometric facial identification risks



The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) recognizes that the accuracy of facial recognition systems is improving, and that different applications have widely varying risk profiles, but urges public authorities to take fundamental rights concerns associated with the biometric technology seriously in a new report.

The 36-page paper ‘Facial recognition technology: fundamental rights considerations in the context of law enforcement’ presents analysis of the rights challenges is says are triggered by the deployment of live facial recognition for law enforcement purposes.

Key aspects to consider, according to the report, include the legal framework, which should be clear and detailed, providing criteria for necessity and proportionality, the purpose, which should make a distinction between verification and identification applications of the technology, as the latter runs a higher risk of interference with fundamental rights, the impact on individuals’ behavior, and place of use. The margin of error should also be considered, as the technology is probabilistic, public procurement should have rights considerations, such as data protection, non-discrimination requirements, built into technical specifications and contracts, impact assessments should be performed, and close monitoring by independent supervisory bodies is necessary to keep track of the technology’s rapid development, according to FRA.

“Given the novelty of the technology as well as the lack of experience and detailed studies on the impact of facial recognition technologies, multiple aspects are key to consider before deploying such a system in real life applications,” the agency says.

Potential consequences from errors by biometric systems could adversely affect judicial decisions, discrimination, privacy rights, minors, and the long-term functioning of democracy, according to the report. The EU must enhance the framework its laws, procurement rules, and redress mechanisms provide, FRA states, and make sure uses are “specific, explicit, and legitimate.”

The incoming European Commission plans to produce a policy document on “Europe fit for the Digital Age,” which may involve new regulation for facial recognition and other artificial intelligence technologies.

The report also notes plans to increase the “use of facial images in the large-scale EU databases in the fields of migration and security.”

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