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Biometric surveillance testing data sparks ethics concerns in Germany

Biometric surveillance testing data sparks ethics concerns in Germany

Even the tests for Germany’s adoption of real-time facial recognition are prompting criticism that the country is failing to meet the data privacy and ethics standard it has set for itself. Following the announcement that German law enforcement will be utilizing high-definition cameras and live facial recognition to apprehend suspects, the country is witnessing a growth in anxiety regarding the proliferation of biometric surveillance technologies.

The new development, following the enactment of the European Union’s AI Act, is prompting debates on privacy, civil liberties, and the ethical implications of such systems. As the nation navigates the delicate balance between security and individual rights, citizens and advocacy groups are expressing mounting unease over the expanding reach of biometric surveillance.

Recent revelations have stirred controversy as the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) in Germany utilized images of approximately three million individuals for testing facial recognition software, sparking concerns over the legality and ethics of such practices. According to information obtained by BR, the BKA’s actions have raised questions about the boundaries of permissible data usage by security authorities.

The BKA reportedly extracted nearly five million facial images from the central police information system INPOL-Z for the purpose of a software test conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute for Graphical Data Processing in 2019. The project, known as EGES (upgrading the facial recognition system in the BKA), aimed to evaluate the accuracy of facial recognition algorithms from multiple manufacturers. Notably, the images used in the test were sourced from approximately three million individuals.

However, proponents of biometric surveillance argue that these technologies are essential tools for enhancing security and streamlining processes in an increasingly digitized world. They emphasize the potential benefits of biometric systems in preventing crime, identifying suspects, and improving efficiency in various sectors, including transportation and healthcare.

Internal communications between the BKA and the federal data protection commissioner (BfDI), Ulrich Kelber, reveal efforts to justify the testing under the label of “scientific research.” However, doubts were raised regarding the legality of the process, prompting calls for clearer regulations governing software testing by security authorities.

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