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Biometrics use by law enforcement criticized in three European countries

Biometrics use by law enforcement criticized in three European countries

Europe continues to wrestle with privacy issues around the collection of sensitive biometric data by law enforcement. In France, Norway, and the UK, the introduction of new regulations and surveillance technologies has drawn criticism from citizens and watchdog groups, who have variously called facial recognition and other biometric surveillance methods wasteful, repressive and inaccurate.

In France, a collective complaint against the Minister of the Interior was filed with the National Commission for Computing and Liberties (CNIL), calling for a ban on the use of what it claims are invasive biometric technologies. Brought by more than 15,000 people and filed by La Quadrature du Net, it calls for reforms to the criminal records system, and an end to the use of algorithmic video surveillance, which employs Artificial Intelligence (AI) to identify suspects. The complaint also slams the increased use of facial recognition technology by police. Finally, it criticizes the system for filing secure electronic documents (TES), which encompasses biometric data collected from passports and identity cards.

The CNIL has been accused of obstructing the deployment of biometrics to improve public safety by the Mayor of Nice, among other people.

Norway’s government faces similar requests, according to Telecompaper, with the country’s Consumer Council asking it to do more to protect the privacy of the Norwegian public. Drawing on a Privacy Commission report that put forth 140 suggested improvements, the Council identified six specific areas of concern. Manipulative design and surveillance-based marketing were flagged as privacy hazards, as was the use of remote biometric identity information, including facial recognition scans. Turning to the economy, the Council noted the pressure monopolies put on the marketplace, and how that can impact data collection. Finally, it pointed to needs for improved supervision and leadership in Norway’s public sector.

Critique is less broad but no less intense in Yorkshire, UK, where advocacy groups are questioning the effectiveness of facial recognition technologies used by police. According to the Yorkshire Post, a coalition of fourteen groups claims the force’s technology misidentifies people 87 percent of the time. Police claim the percentage of misidentifications is substantially lower — somewhere between 0 and 0.08 percent. But they are hesitant to provide further detail on their use of facial recognition, saying that “confirming or denying whether any other information is or isn’t held relating to the covert use of facial recognition technology would limit operational capabilities.”

A coalition of advocacy groups recently called for the new Chief of the London Metropolitan Police to halt the use of facial recognition by the force as one of his first actions in the position.

As Europe continues to face political and social upheaval, one common concern looks sure to link its nations in the near future. All eyes are on Europe — specifically, its biometrics and personal data — and debates will continue to roil about just how closely they should be allowed to look.

European rights groups are also calling for a ban on the EU’s proposed Prüm II face biometrics system.

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