By Luca Bertuzzi
(EurActiv) – Law enforcement agencies in 11 European countries are already using biometric recognition systems in their investigations. Eight more will follow, one new study found, warning of the impact of technology on fundamental rights.
Police in Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia and the Netherlands use facial recognition technologies for “identification a posteriori âin their criminal investigations. Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Sweden are expected to follow suit soon.
Ex post identification is where images are verified after an incident, not in real time.
âThe distinction between ‘real time’ and ‘ex-post’ is irrelevant when it comes to the impact of these technologies on fundamental rights. Ex post identification actually carries a higher potential for harm, as more data can be aggregated from different sources to carry out the identification, âsaid Francesco Ragazzi, associate professor at Leiden University and author of the study.
The study, published Monday, October 25, was commissioned by the Greens in the European Parliament, a strong supporter of a total ban on biometric recognition systems in spaces accessible to the public.
The most developed form of biometric identification is facial recognition software that matches a captured image with another image stored in a database.
The report warns that “there appears to be little understanding of the ways in which this technology could be applied and of the potential impact of such a wide range of applications on the fundamental rights of European citizens”.
The study focuses on so-called non-cooperative searches, where the system attempts to identify a person without their consent. He notes that the deployment of these technologies is still limited in scope and scale across Europe, ranging from identifying individuals to mass surveillance.
In cooperative research, for example, facial recognition to unlock smartphones is not currently considered to pose a risk of mass surveillance. However, the report notes that the situation could change if the legal framework is changed, as these cooperative systems have accumulated massive amounts of personal data.
Two developments are reported as making mass surveillance more likely: the extension of biometric databases and the management of several systems linked to biometric identification software.
“What we are seeing with these projects is that they are increasingly following a ‘done ‘ strategy. They are generally presented as a pilot project, asking for specific circumstances regarding the deployment of the technology. They ask for permission later, âRagazzi added.
In 2017, Brussels airport deployed four facial recognition cameras without notifying the competent supervisory authority. A neighborhood in Rotterdam has launched a âno burglaryâ project to detect suspicious behavior using smart streetlights.
Nice started to follow facial recognition technology on the streets. The use of biometric identification tools in high schools has also been tested but therefore declared illegal. On the other hand, facial recognition tools are now used identify pupils in school canteens in the UK.
In Germany, Berlin, Hamburg and Mannheim have all deployed facial recognition software to test their ability to detect suspicious behavior.
“Justification as a testing approach is often used in Germany to argue for a deviation from existing rules and societal expectations,” the report reads.
The study notes that these pilots tend to start in a legal gray area and, if left unchecked, could have the long-term effect of normalizing surveillance. In particular, the monitoring of suspicious behavior could have a deterrent effect on individual freedoms.
In addition, in most cases, infrastructure such as cameras and microphones have been disabled, but they remain in place.
Earlier this month, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for strict rules on the use of AI systems in law enforcement, including pushing for a ban on facial recognition technologies in public spaces.
The report received strong support from liberal, social-democratic, left-wing and green groups, as it almost evenly divided right-wing and far-right parties. In contrast, the Christian Democrats voted almost unanimously against the ban.
âAlthough strict safeguards and some prohibitions are required, a complete ban on facial recognition fails to take into account the benefits that this technology can have, for example when tracking down criminals or even in other cases of recognition. ‘use such as training autonomous vehicles to recognize humans,’ said Axel Voss, an influential MEP from the Christian Democrat camp.
The ban could be incorporated into the law on artificial intelligence, called for by Brando Benifei, rapporteur for the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO). However, other parliamentary committees have challenged IMCO’s leadership, opening up a dispute over competences.
To resolve the dispute, the President of the Conference of Committee Chairs, Christian Democrat Antonio Tajani, recommended a joint leadership between IMCO and the Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI). In JURI, one of Tajani’s party members is expected to take the lead, making a total ban less likely.
The final decision rests with the Conference of Presidents, which will debate the matter on November 18.