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Global biometric surveillance developments draw regional concerns

Global biometric surveillance developments draw regional concerns

Biometric surveillance is facing resistance globally. It is doubtless less successful than opponents would like but the resistance cannot be ignored by governments and vendors, either.

This month, a Spanish supermarket has been fined for biometrically scanning shoppers and Dutch police were forced to tip their hands about their face-scanning programming.

Also, a policy research organization based in Uganda says that surveillance is growing even though encryption is insufficient to protect data and programs are hidden from public view and accountability.

And last, an Indian bill pushed as a way to improve criminal justice is being used to profile minorities, according to human rights groups.

In Spain, the government has found that supermarket chain Mercadona broke the law when it set up facial recognition systems in 48 stores, purportedly to spot people who have assaulted store employees or who have caused in-store disruptions.

The agency fined the chain €2.5 million, or $2.9 million.

Executives reportedly took the cameras out when they heard the government was looking into the legality of the move. They said that they had worked from the beginning of the program with Spain’s Agency for Data Protection, the group investigating Mercadona.

Dutch police, meanwhile, announced that its national face biometric database had been cleansed of 218,000 photos inappropriately captured and stored. The admission reportedly is the first of its kind in The Netherlands.

The National Unit of the police did not say how many people were involved. The unit’s policy is to capture and retain images of suspects and convicted criminals. Anyone cleared of wrongdoing and no longer a suspect, were to be removed, which reportedly did not always happen.

About 100 identifications a year are made using the nation’s Catch face biometrics system.

In Africa, a report by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa examined laws and government policies on biometric surveillance finds fundamental problems.

Nations including Zimbabwe politicize facial recognition while exhibiting lax oversight and insufficient remedies for mistakes and improper use. The report urges adoption of encryption and data localization standards to mitigate the potential harms.

Indian lawmakers, meanwhile, are debating a bill designed to regulate collection and use of crime-related genetic data. Opponents of the measure claim marginalized communities will actually be hurt if it becomes law.

There is too little transparency when it comes to what data can be stored, they have said. The data would be collected from crime victims, suspects and those who are missing.

The bill is expected to be passed by August 31.

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