Authoritarian surveillance technology or fundamental rights? The decision should be easy

Joint press release

In Europe and around the world, the use of biometric identification systems (BIS), such as face recognition in public, is one of the greatest threats to fundamental rights and democracy that we have never seen. Remote use of these systems destroys public anonymity and jeopardizes our rights to privacy, personal data protection, the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of assembly and association (criminalizes protests and has a cooling effect), and the right to equality. and non-discrimination.

Without a clear and simple ban on the use of these new technologies in public places, all places where we exercise our rights and gather as citizens will be transformed into places of mass observation, where we will always be. Treat you like a suspect.

This damage is not hypothetical.

Uighur Muslims are systematically persecuted by the Chinese government through face recognition. Pro-democracy protesters and political opponents have been suppressed or targeted in Russia, Serbia and Hong Kong for using – and in some cases simply fearing – using the SIB in public.

There is also strong evidence that French and European people have been systematically exposed to mass biometric surveillance. These are cases where football fans, schoolchildren, passengers, shoppers or people who visit LGBTQ + bars and places of worship become the target and the damage is real and widespread.

Even some of the largest companies providing biometric surveillance systems, such as Microsoft, IBM and Amazon, have voluntarily imposed a moratorium because of the great risks and losses that these systems can cause. In the same vein, Facebook deleted its database containing facial images.

The need for regulation is felt throughout Europe, and some member states have already taken the lead: Italy was the first country to introduce a moratorium on face recognition in public. Germany’s ruling coalition has called for a Europe-wide moratorium on mass surveillance using biometric data, and Portugal has rejected a bill that would legalize some of these practices. And the Belgian parliament is considering a moratorium on biometric surveillance.

The draft European regulation on artificial intelligence is an obvious tool that the European Parliament could use to create a coherent legal framework for data protection and individual freedoms. The EU is a pioneer in the regulation of artificial intelligence, and the rules adopted in Europe will affect practices and laws around the world.

Will the European Union allow mass surveillance technology that would be dangerous to our freedoms?

To protect fundamental rights, the Artificial Intelligence Act should prohibit any remote use (ie widespread surveillance) of biometric identification (RBI) in public places by:
• Extension of the ban to all private actors, as well as public entities;
• Ensuring that all uses of biometric identification (real-time or posterior) in public spaces are included in the ban;
• Remove exemptions from the ban, which, as confirmed by independent human rights assessments, do not meet existing European standards of fundamental rights.
• End discriminatory or manipulative forms of biometric categorization
• Properly address the risks of recognizing emotions

The EU seeks to create an “ecosystem of trust and excellence” for artificial intelligence and to position itself as a world leader in artificial intelligence that is reliable and ethical. By regulating the use of biometric data, we would be able to make AI a service to people rather than a powerful technology.

That is why we need to make sure that the IMCO and LIBE amendments to the AI ​​Regulation prohibit mass surveillance using biometric data.

Read an open letter in May 2022 sent to MEPs by 53 organizations representing civil society.

May 10, 2022