Commission will ‘not exclude’ potential ban on facial recognition technology

The European Commission has revealed that it is still considering a potential ban on the use of facial recognition technologies in public places in the EU.

The European Commission has revealed that it is still considering a potential ban on the use of facial recognition technologies in public places in the EU. [Shutterstock]

The European Commission has not ruled out a future ban on the use of facial recognition technology in Europe, as the EU executive mulls the findings of a recent public consultation on Artificial Intelligence.

Speaking to MEPs on the European Parliament’s Internal Market Committee on Thursday (3 September), Kilian Gross of the Commission’s DG Connect said that all options were still on the table.

Responding to a question from Pirate MEP Marcel Kolaja on whether a potential ban is still in the offing, Gross said that “we will not exclude any option, we will look into all options and will carefully analyze existing legislation.”

Gross, who is head of DG Connect’s Technologies and Systems for Digitising Industry Unit, also noted how the EU’s general data protection regulation (GDPR) covers the processing of biometric technology in certain cases, but that the Commission would also examine whether the GDPR is sufficient in terms of data acquired from facial recognition technology.

“We already have in Europe strong legislation on facial recognition that should not be overlooked. It is only allowed according to the criteria of the GDPR,” he said, adding, however, that the Commission will look into “whether we need additional safeguards or whether we need to go further and not to allow facial recognition in certain cases, certain areas or even temporarily. So, nothing is excluded.”

Should a potential ban on facial recognition technologies in public places ever manifest in the EU, it would provide clarity on an issue long debated by the Commission.

Ahead of the official publication of the Commission’s White paper on Artificial Intelligence in February this year, a leaked working document revealed that the Commission had been weighing up the possibility of introducing a temporary moratorium on facial recognition technologies.

However, the potential ban was later binned, despite longstanding concerns surrounding the deployment of facial recognition technology in Europe.

Artificial Intelligence White Paper

On Thursday, Gross also reflected on the findings of a recently closed public consultation on the Artificial Intelligence White Paper, highlighting concerns that had been made with regards to the employment of remote biometric identification technology in Europe, which he says requires a ‘special discussion’ in the EU over its wider use and application.

“The biggest risks identified are to fundamental rights and discrimination from our citizens…that confirms the reaction we had immediately after the publication of the White Paper. We see a lot of concerns about remote biometric identification in public spaces.”

Gross said that 28% of respondents support a ban on biometric remote identification being used in publicly accessible places.

Following the February publication of the Commission’s Artificial Intelligence White Paper, the EU’s data protection watchdog, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) released a position saying that automated recognition technologies in public spaces should be temporarily banned.

The EDPS said that applications that should be outlawed for a limited period of time not only include facial recognition technologies but also software that captures “gait, fingerprints, DNA, voice, keystrokes and other biometric or behavioural signals.”

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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