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Portuguese lawmakers try to unshackle biometric mass surveillance; alarms ring

Portuguese lawmakers try to unshackle biometric mass surveillance; alarms ring

A proposed Portuguese law expanding the allowable uses of biometric video surveillance by law enforcement is being strongly attacked as unconstitutional, unwarranted and needlessly rushed by critics inside and outside the nation.

The bill explicitly authorizes the heads of law enforcement agencies and public security services to apply for the installation of video surveillance systems with biometric capabilities.

But an independent national data protection commission, the Comissão Nacional de Proteção de Dados, has condemned draft decree 111/XIV/2 as “grossly” violating the principle of proportionality.

If passed, commissioners said, it would allow “arbitrary and excessive” use of government surveillance cameras, including bodycams and those on drones. It also would give the government real-time access to surveillance systems deployed by private entities.

Facial recognition software could be used without limitation or efforts to avoid bias as it tracked individuals as they moved throughout the country, according to the commission. It appears that biometric templates could be created from the private feeds.

OneTrust, a global legal-affairs software vendor, analyzed the commissioners’ findings, noting that it objected to a lack of justification for the expansion. Also missing in the draft law is transparency about operations and an independent body to oversee those operations.

In fact, according to privacy advocate group European Digital Rights, known as EDRi, the draft calls for weakening the data protection commission.

EDRi has petitioned Portugal’s most powerful political parties to oppose the bill. The organization claims it is very similar to a biometric mass-surveillance bill in Serbia that was withdrawn under political pressure last month.

The proposal appears to run contrary to a growing effort in the European Union to place AI surveillance under tight controls to protect human rights wherever possible.

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