Crowd monitoring facial recognition tech awarded Commission seal of excellence 

The European Commission has given its ‘seal of excellence’ to a technology that provides ‘advanced video analytics, including real-time face recognition and crowd behaviour analysis,’ to be used in the bloc’s fight against another potential outbreak of the coronavirus.

The AWARE technology, developed by Spanish-based Herta Security, allows authorities to “identify people even when wearing masks and monitor crowd density,” the company stated.

“The automatic control of social distancing and the identification of persons in access controls without the need of removing masks become vitally important to control the spread of COVID-19, and are Herta’s main focus to fight against the pandemic,” said a statement on the firm’s website.

The Commission’s ‘seal of approval’ was issued following an announcement during the coronavirus pandemic that the European Innovation Council (EIC) Accelerator Pilot would award innovative initiatives with funding to combat the outbreak in the EU.

The executive had stated at the end of April that the €150 million outlay would “support game-changing innovations to tackle the coronavirus crisis.”

The Commission also noted that projects which had unsuccessfully applied for the fund could be awarded ‘Seals of Excellence,’ in order to “support their financing from other sources.” Herta’s AWARE technology was one such project that received the approval.

Facial recognition concerns

However, there have long been concerns surrounding the deployment of facial recognition technology in Europe.

In January this year, the EU’s umbrella data protection authority, the European Data Protection Board, released guidelines on the use of facial recognition technologies, amid fears that some future applications could be in breach of the EU’s general data protection regulation (GDPR).

“The use of biometric data and in particular facial recognition entails heightened risks for data subjects’ rights,” the paper stated.

“It is crucial that recourse to such technologies takes place with due respect to the principles of lawfulness, necessity, proportionality and data minimisation as set forth in the GDPR.”

The Commission itself has also taken an ambiguous stance on facial recognition tech.

Ahead of the official publication of the executive’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 in the EU. However, the potential ban was later binned.

Meanwhile, a study published earlier this week has exposed the significant gaps between member states with regards to the experiences and opinions of citizens on the sharing of data and the awareness of privacy risks, with facial recognition technology being an area which such divisions are particularly evident.

The report, published by the EU agency for fundamental rights, surveyed 35,000 people across the EU, the UK and North Macedonia.

On the subject of the deployment of facial recognition applications in the EU, the willingness of residents to share facial images with public authorities and private entities varied considerably across member states.

While those in Cyprus (65%) and Malta (50%) were some of the highest in the index of countries happy to share facial images with public authorities, other member states such as Germany, Poland and Romania were much more wary about this prospect, with only 9% of respondents in each country being happy with such a scenario.

The report comes just days ahead of the publication of the Commission’s review of the General Data Protection Regulation, which is due to come out on June 24.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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