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EU police face biometrics system debated by lawmakers, experts concerned about false positives

French advocacy group challenges domestic use of facial recognition
EU police face biometrics system debated by lawmakers, experts concerned about false positives

European Union plans to establish a biometric facial recognition system for use by all states in the region are being questioned by members of European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee, who are concerned about false positive matches and potential abuses of power, Euractive reports.

The introduction of new data categories such as facial images for biometric checks into the Prum agreement, which sets out the rules for exchanging biometric data between police forces in member states, could create challenges to privacy rights, experts testified to the committee.

Queen Mary University of London Professor Dr. Niovi Vavoula warned of the risk of false positives, particularly for ethnic minorities. Digital rights group EDRi’s Chloé Berthélémy alleged systemic racial bias in law enforcement and justice systems in the EU, in arguing that the likelihood of false positives means the facial recognition system should not be launched into operation.

University of Minho Post-doctoral researcher Dr. Rafaela Granja cited a recent study of national contact points (NCPs) in EU countries which found NCPs anticipate issues from a lack of standards for procedures, as well as false positives, accountability and transparency.

MEP Birgit Sippel noted that the importance of image quality has already been noted, and is still being struggled with, as the false positive concerns show. Tomas Tobé, another MEP, referred to the necessity for EU police forces to share information to effectively fight crime in the region, but said a better understanding is necessary of how valuable facial recognition data is for criminal investigations.

The Commission is reported to have contracted Deloitte to perform an assessment of the feasibility of adding facial recognition into the Prum agreement, for €700,000 (approximately US$817,000).

Council working groups continue to discuss the plan, and a public update is expected in October.

The EC, meanwhile, said recently that a ban on the use of facial biometrics in public spaces has not yet been ruled out.

French rights group mounts legal challenge of facial recognition provisions

French digital rights advocacy group La Quadrature du Net has revealed that it filed legal action in the country’s highest administrative court in August against the use of facial recognition by police in the country.

French police hold a database of roughly 19 million files, including 8 million images of people.

The group says police in France have been using facial recognition “routinely” in public “for many years” without justification or a legal framework. Despite the French government calling for public dialogue on the use of facial recognition, the group says it is already entrenched in the country, from experiments in Nice to the “Parafe” entry gates at transit stations and airports and the Alicem digital ID program.

The Traitement des antécédents judiciaires (TAJ, or processing of criminal records) would include images of people who have not been found guilty of a crime, La Quadrature du Net says, and even more people will be caught up in the system due to France’s biometric ID system.

The group argues that the system “makes everybody a suspect,” and enables authorities to track people by their faces.

An EU Directive on personal data bars the use of biometrics except “where strictly necessary,” and “subject to appropriate safeguards,” the group points out, denying it meets the threshold.

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