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European data protection regulator argues biometric surveillance restrictions not strong enough

biometric identification facial recognition

European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) Wojciech Wiewiórowski says the European Commission’s proposed legislation restricting the use of facial recognition and other biometrics in public spaces does not go far enough because it does not completely ban them.

Wiewiórowski said that a ban on biometrics in publicly accessible spaces is necessary, and that he regrets his earlier call for a moratorium on remote biometric systems was addressed by the EC.

The EC’s proposed Artificial Intelligence Act calls for all such biometric technologies to be banned from use for surveillance of public spaces by law enforcement, except in cases of terrorism, missing children, and public security emergencies. It also increases penalties for violations, though 40 members of European Parliament (out of 705) called for the Act to go further and ban the technology outright.

Wiewiórowski expressed satisfaction with the “horizontal approach” of the regulation, and its broad scope, which includes all EU institutions, bodies and agencies.

“I also acknowledge the merits in the risk-based approach underpinning the proposal. Indeed, there are numerous Artificial Intelligence applications that present limited threat for the fundamental rights to data protection and privacy while giving the humanity a potentially powerful tool to fight against today’s problems.”

The EDPS will continue to push for stricter regulation of automated recognition technologies like facial recognition, but also gait, fingerprint, DNA, voice and behavioral biometrics in public spaces, for both private sector and law enforcement applications. Wiewiórowski’s motivation is what the announcement refers to as the “extremely high risk of deep and non-democratic intrusion into individual’s private lives.”

The agency plans to analyze the legislative proposal to support stronger individual and societal protections, and focus on establishing precise boundaries for systems that could pose a risk to fundamental rights.

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