EU data watchdog to ‘convince’ Commission to ban automated recognition tech

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Automated recognition technologies in public spaces should be temporarily banned, the EU’s institutional data protection watchdog has said, arguing in favour of a moratorium.

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 behavioral signals,” the European Data Protection Supervisor said on Tuesday (30 June).

EDPS head Wojciech Wiewiórowski said he “will be trying to convince the Commission that such a moratorium might be useful in many situations where the technologies are not mature enough or not discussed enough to open their use in public spaces.”

In a veiled warning, Wiewiórowski added that the EDPS, which is responsible for overseeing data protection compliance by EU institutions and agencies, will “very closely observe the way that European Union institutions are using these technologies.”

The European Parliament has reportedly been looking to employ facial recognition technologies “in the context of biometric-based security and services to members,” according to The Guardian. The Parliament, however, is since understood to having binned the plans.

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Wiewiórowski said his position towards the use of biometric technologies in public spaces had been informed by several unsavory personal experiences.

“At least twice I have already been in situations where I was tracked this way and I found out about it. I treated it as a big invasion into my privacy and even as a big invasion into my intimacy.”

“That showed me that the situations when I’m observed and assessed automatically in the public sphere is actually a big intrusion into [my] dignity.”

The warning from the EDPS comes while the European Commission mulls over feedback submitted as part of a public consultation on its White Paper on Artificial Intelligence.

The European Commission’s Vice-President for Digital policy, Margrethe Vestager,  reflected on the concerns raised as part of the consultation during an online event on Tuesday.

She highlighted how some of the 1,200 respondents noted apprehension with regards to the possible erosion of rights brought about by improper use of AI, saying that “most of these contributors agreed that AI, if not properly framed, might compromise our fundamental rights or safety.”

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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 in the EU.

However, the potential ban was later binned, despite longstanding 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 paper stressed.

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(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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