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Swedish privacy watchdog opposes police proposal to use passport biometrics

Swedish privacy watchdog opposes police proposal to use passport biometrics

Sweden’s law enforcement agencies are pushing to increase the use of biometrics in their work after a spew of gang-related violence rocked the Nordic country. The country’s data privacy watchdog has now released an opinion on the police proposal to use biometric data stored in the Swedish passport register to crackdown on crime.

In a report released last week, the Swedish Authority for Privacy Protection (IMY) said that the proposals were “very far-reaching” and carried significant privacy risks. Using the data from the passport register for law enforcement purposes would be a “major and fundamental change” and contrary to both the Swedish constitution and EU law, according to the agency.

Extensive storage of biometric data such as this would pose significant privacy risks, including the risk of abuse and unauthorized use as well as the potential of discrimination or misidentification, the agency says.

“There is a great need for effective law enforcement tools to deal with the serious crime that has developed in Sweden,” says the watchdog’s Deputy Director Karin Lönnheden. “However, the proposals are in some parts very far-reaching. This applies in particular to the proposal that the passport register should become a biometric register that can be used for law enforcement purposes.”

The police have also suggested expanding facial recognition and CCTV surveillance, including an option to increase the number of cameras police can use by four times. The rise in gang-related incidents, including firearms and explosives, has pushed the government and other parties to examine the proposed surveillance change in a fast-tracked inquiry. The inquiry could be completed as soon as spring, the country’s justice minister announced at the beginning of October.

The Swedish Authority for Privacy Protection warns, however, that if the country proceeds with creating a register for facial biometrics containing the majority of the Swedish population, it would open up the risk of identifying most people in public spaces.

“In the long run, these risks threaten not only privacy but also other fundamental rights such as freedom of demonstration and freedom of expression,” says Lisa Zettervall, the agency’s legal officer.

Policing authorities are proposing that 2,500 new and existing cameras be connected to police facial recognition algorithms by December 2023, 900 more than previously had been planned. The same proposal would also bolster police use of automated number plate recognition. Drones and road cameras operated by Sweden’s Transportation Administration could also join the dragnet.

At the beginning of the month, the Swedish police were given broader powers to surveil, including the use of biometric identifiers. Previously, the national security service Säpo had the bulk of authority for public surveillance.

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