Efforts to Ban Facial Recognition in Europe Gain New Steam
Despite the benefits of facial recognition software as it concerns surveillance and theft prevention in certain business settings, among other things, this technology has also led to invasions of personal privacy in countries around the world. For this reason, many European nations are currently considering enacting legislation that would ban the use of facial recognition technology across the continent, citing the manner in which such technology has been used by government officials in countries such as Russia and China. What’s more, the topic of bias as it concerns facial recognition software has also been a topic of discussion, as numerous studies have found that the same discriminatory practices that human beings have been known for can be transferred to the algorithms and machine learning models they develop.
With all this being said, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB), the EU’s foremost data protection watchdog, has called for a ban on facial recognition technology in public spaces across Europe, on the grounds that such technology essentially violates the fundamental human rights to privacy and freedom of movement. On top of this, several major campaign groups within Europe have also supported similar bans on facial recognition technology, including the German Social Democrats (SPD), Greens, and liberal Free Democrats (FDP), as these groups have echoed similar sentiments as it relates to the protection of the personal privacy of European citizens with respect to facial recognition software.
Newly proposed legislation
In response to the growing concerns that politicians and privacy advocates have been voicing with regard to the use of facial recognition software, Renew Europe, a liberal political group within the European Parliament, has proposed a new law that would ban the use of the technology under certain circumstances across Europe. Subsequently, “POLITICO obtained a document detailing a new civil liability law for AI applications — an avant-garde step toward a legal regime for autonomous programs and devices.” Moreover, Renew’s Dragoș Tudorache, a Romanian politician of USR PLUS/USR and a member of the European Parliament, was also quoted as saying that “The prevailing position in this house is to support the ban for this technology.”
Furthermore, Tudorache went on to say that “We’re going to ban what we believe is not according to our values, the deployment [of biometric identification] in public spaces where we as Europeans, we believe that we need to be free of the risks of mass surveillance.” To this end, the enactment of a law geared towards regulating the use of facial recognition software in Europe would be in line with the approach that the EU has taken regarding artificial intelligence in general, as this attitude is perhaps best exemplified by the proposed Artificial Intelligence Act that is also being discussed by the European Parliament at the moment. Nevertheless, there are also many supporters of facial recognition software within Europe as well.
Supporters of facial recognition software in the EU
To this last point, there is another group of countries within the EU that are of the opinion that banning the use of facial recognition software would instead lead to an increase in crime across the continent. For example, the French government has been very vocal in its support of facial recognition technology, based on the premise that removing facial recognition cameras around major cities such as Paris would greatly reduce the level of security and safety that the nation’s citizens would be afforded on a daily basis. Furthermore, as Paris is slated to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, the French government has also made it clear that they want all the tools possible to avoid large-scale crimes such as terrorist attacks in lieu of all the visitors that the country stands to have during the course of the event.
Police use of facial recognition software
On top of the general privacy and data protection concerns that have come to be associated with facial recognition technology, another major talking point concerning the matter has been the use of facial recognition by law enforcement. For reference, many proposed laws around the world that call for bans on facial recognition exempt law enforcement officials from compliance, arguing that the police may face situations where such technology could prove both useful and beneficial to the general public. This begs the question of whether banning facial recognition technology altogether is a tangible goal for governments on an international scale, as advancements in technology have also ushered in new ways for law enforcement officials to implement surveillance with society.
While it remains to be seen whether the level of support for a ban on facial recognition technology within the European Parliament will be enough for a law to be passed, the larger conversation regarding the ethics behind the use of this technology will undoubtedly continue to develop. As a result, the European Parliament, in addition to the world’s numerous other governments, will have to make determinations regarding whether or not the use of facial recognition software should be permitted or banned, as these conversations can no longer be put off as they once were in the past.