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Privacy advocates push for strict biometric surveillance regulation in appeals to White House, EU

biometric identification facial recognition

Privacy advocates on both sides of the Atlantic are telling their governments that they do not trust officials to use facial recognition surveillance in the best interest of society.

Groups want the European Union want to be free of indiscriminate or arbitrary use of biometric surveillance. They are petitioning the European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, to forego even development of those types of biometric systems for use in member states. That goes for government and private organizations.

U.S. President Joe Biden has been presented with a similar demand. Perhaps acknowledging stronger pro-police sentiment in the United States, this campaign is significantly narrower in scope.

Advocates want an executive order placing a moratorium, rather than a ban, on government use of facial recognition systems, not biometric surveillance generally. This effort does not target private deployment.

They also want Biden to stop state and local government from using federal funds to buy or get access to the systems.

These developments come as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a U.S. online-rights advocacy group, says it has evidence that the Los Angeles Police Department sent formal requests to owners of Ring door cameras to share with officers their video feeds, which might have recorded video of Black Lives Matters protests last summer.

About 70 organizations in the EU, most acting in a pair of coalitions, are trying to generate 1 million signatures on a petition to the European Commission. Among them are Reclaim Your Face, Privacy International and the Civil Liberties Union for Europe.

They object to the unregulated nature of system networks harvesting information from faces, irises, fingerprints, vein patterns and gaits. The biometric data is being used to identify people who except in rare cases are not being criminally investigated and, more controversially, to predict how subjects will act in the future.

Organizers say this is becoming mass surveillance, and is a danger to civil liberties whether systems operate perfectly or with errors. It is a violation of privacy on either count, and will result in harassment of innocent people if the latter is true.

Dozens of organizations in the United States, including Advocacy for principled Action in Government, Open the Government and the Project on Government Oversight, have the same concerns.

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