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Civil society groups want broader restrictions on biometrics use in AI Act

Civil society groups want broader restrictions on biometrics use in AI Act

More than 100 civil society groups and advocates have co-signed a letter calling on European Union lawmakers to restrict the use of biometrics for surveillance in the Artificial Intelligence Act.

The groups say that biometrics are used in law enforcement for “identification, recognition and categorisation” in ways that affect people in marginalized communities more than others, that undermine legal rights and enable mass surveillance. The use of biometrics and other AI systems by law enforcement, border control and national security authorities across Europe must be regulated more tightly, they argue.

The Act should prohibit various forms of biometric surveillance, the letter argues. Uses of “high-risk” AI by authorities should be accompanied by public transparency and oversight. That means AI for law enforcement and biometrics in public spaces, which are among applications designated “high-risk.” AI applications that pose risks to human rights should be regulated by the AI Act, without carve-outs for migration control or national security.

The AI Act was approved by EU Parliament in June, setting up trilogues with the EU Council of Ministers and the European Commission.

The devil in the details

The detailed recommendations in the letter make clear that the groups want not only real-time but also retrospective biometrics in public spaces, including border control areas, to be banned. They want a broad definition of public spaces, rejecting a proposed amendment to the Act. They seek a prohibition on predictive systems, risk assessments for migrants, biometric categorization and emotion recognition systems.

Those technologies banned in the EU should not be exported, the groups say.

The list of “high-risk” AI systems should include hand-held biometric scanners, as well as voice and iris biometrics systems, which the letter argues “can lead to discrimination, surveillance and coercion of the person subjected.”

The letter is co-signed by European Digital Rights (EDRi), Algorithmwatch, Amnesty International, Access Now, Privacy International, Statewatch and over 100 others.

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