Facial recognition concerns impact Malta, South Africa and NYC public safety projects

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Maltese MEPs of the Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) met on Thursday to discuss the recent European Commission proposal for new artificial intelligence and facial recognition rules.

The proposal, according to Malta Today, could deeply affect the deployment of the country’s Safe City project, a planned initiative to install a national, facial recognition CCTV system.

Malta was not represented by an MEP on the Committee that discussed the Commission’s new proposal.

Moreover, even before the unveiling of the new rules, the EU Commissioner had already criticized Malta’s Safe City project back in 2019, saying the initiative should at the very least be subject to harsh scrutiny. The point was echoed by European Commission Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager earlier this week, who condemned mass surveillance entirely.

“That’s why in our proposal, the use of biometric identification in public places is prohibited by principle,” she said.

“We propose very narrow exceptions that are strictly defined, limited and regulated. Those are extreme cases such as when police authorities need it in search of a missing child or an imminent terrorism threat,” Vestager added.

AfriForum wants privacy assurances for South Africa road safety project

Going in a different direction than the EU, the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) is considering the deployment of machine learning and facial recognition for road safety applications in the country, BusinessTech reports.

Spearheaded by Sanral’s Technical Innovation Hub (TIH), the project will see the collaboration of various stakeholders and research institutes.

Through the use of machine learning and object classification, vehicles, pedestrians, animals, and cyclists will be identified.

The system will consequently learn and improve on these classifications to assess different types of traffic and activate the appropriate response through the Road Incident Management System (RIMS).

AfriForum is seeking assurances that facial recognition will not be used, and that the system will not invade privacy, The Citizen writes, and expressed concernd at Sanral’s reference to Chinese government projects as an example of successful machine learning implementation.

The group says it does not oppose the application of technology for road safety in general, but is worried about the impact on constitutional rights.

Sanral recognized potential risks to human rights with ML technologies, but said safeguards are in place.

“Some of the ways to mitigate these potential privacy risks are strict security and access controls. Data can also be anonymous at the point of capture,” the agency said in a statement.

“After all, the intention is not to observe individuals, but to identify trends and incidents to inform appropriate response and interventions.”

China govt ties to facial recognition firm in planned NYC MTA test

New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has halted a plan to test cameras in subway cars, after discovering technology provider Suzhou Huaqi Intelligent Technology has ties to China’s government, according to New York Daily News. The company lists facial recognition among its specialties in company documents.

The planned trial involved four cameras placed on each car in a four-car train on the G line for a year to assess their impact on security, though an official said the cameras were not equipped with biometrics. The trial did not cost the MTA anything, but when brass became aware of the technology provider’s ownership, they intervened.

The MTA has set a new policy that requires any new subway cars purchased to come with CCTV cameras.

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