For the past 15 years, police forces searching for criminals in Europe have been able to share fingerprints, DNA data, and details of vehicle owners with each other. Now European lawmakers are set to include millions of photos of people’s faces in this system—and allow facial recognition to be used on an unprecedented scale.
The expansion of facial recognition across Europe is included in wider plans to “modernize” policing across the continent, and it comes under the Prüm II data-sharing proposals. The original Prüm Convention was signed in 2005 by Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Spain, outside of the EU’s framework – but “open” to the bloc’s other member countries, 14 out of 27 of which have since joined.
The treaty is meant to increase cross-border cooperation in tackling crime and terrorism. What this has meant so far is that the parties to the treaty have been collecting, processing, and sharing data like fingerprints, DNA, information about owners of vehicles, and the like.
“What you are creating is the most extensive biometric surveillance infrastructure that I think we will ever have seen in the world,” says Ella Jakubowska, a policy adviser at the civil rights NGO European Digital Rights (EDRi).
Prüm II plans to significantly expand the amount of information that can be shared, potentially including photos and information from driving licenses. The proposals from the European Commission also say police will have greater “automated” access to information that’s shared. The massive database would then be available to police in various countries across Europe to match against photos of suspects using facial recognition algorithms, in an automated process.
Facial recognition technology has faced significant pushback in recent years as police forces have increasingly adopted it, and it has misidentified people and derailed lives. Dozens of cities in the US have gone as far as banning police forces from using the technology. The EU is debating a ban on the police use of facial recognition in public places as part of its AI Act.
The European proposals allow a nation to compare a photo against the databases of other countries and find out if there are matches—essentially creating one of the largest facial recognition systems in existence
The European data protection superviser (EDPS), who oversees how EU bodies use data under GDPR, has criticized the planned expansion of Prüm, which could take several years. “Automated searching of facial images is not limited only to serious crimes but could be carried out for the prevention, detection, and investigation of any criminal offenses, even a petty one,”
EU spokespeople claim that “a human will review potential matches,” said the report.
Sources : Reclaim the Net