EU Commission Embraces Remote Facial Recognition?

The latest version of the European Commission's white paper on AI does not specify a temporary ban on remote facial recognition.

Today, the European Commission presented its white paper on AI. In line with what the media found out last week, the released version - as opposed to an earlier draft - does not suggest a temporary ban on remote facial recognition.

During a press event last Thursday, Commission Vice-President for Digital Margrethe Vestager said that the Commission would not propose any EU-level regulatory measure now.

“So what we will say in the paper in a very lawyered up language is, let’s pause and figure out if there are any [situations], and if any, under what circumstances facial recognition remotely should be authorised," Vestager said.

At the end of the day, this means that law enforcement agencies all over Europe will increasingly use the technology in ways they see fit, in many cases under highly questionable interpretations of the national laws. (The best research on this was conducted by Privacy International in the UK last year. If you are interested in how UK police are breaching the rights of our former fellow-citizens, read about their project here.)

Police surveillance coupled with facial recognition technology endangers our democracies. It hinders our right to speak our minds, to meet others and publicly express our disagreements with people in power. It is especially dangerous in times when authoritarianism is on the rise.

The white paper on AI will be the starting point of a 12-week consultation. Liberties strongly hopes that in those 12 weeks the Commission will listen to the human rights community’s concerns, and its legislative proposal, expected to be put forward late this year, will appropriately protect our civil liberties and human rights.