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  • Kyle Chua

European Parliament Backs Resolution Restricting Use of Facial Recognition Tech in Public

The European Parliament on Wednesday, 6 October, called on European Union lawmakers to restrict police use of automated facial recognition technology in public places. The non-binding resolution was adopted by the Parliament, receiving 377 votes in favour, 248 against and 62 abstentions.

Credit: Damir Sagolj via Reuters

"Fundamental rights are unconditional. For the first time ever, we are calling for a moratorium on the deployment of facial recognition systems for law enforcement purposes, as the technology has proven to be ineffective and often leads to discriminatory results," said the resolution’s author Petar Vitanov.

The MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) believe that citizens should only be monitored when suspected of a crime, citing how artificial intelligence-based systems are prone to misidentifying minority ethnic groups, LGBTI people, seniors and women. They added that human supervision and legal protections are needed to prevent discrimination by AI.

The resolution emphasises that humans must always make the final decision in cases where subjects are monitored by AI systems. Those subjected to such systems should also have recourse for remedy.

The Parliament agreed that algorithms should be "transparent, traceable and sufficiently documented" to combat discrimination and maintain the right to privacy. They recommend authorities use open-source software where possible.

The MEPs additionally called for the banning of private facial recognition databases – like the controversial AI system created and used by New York-based startup Clearview – that allow for predictive policing based on behavioural data.

They also want social scoring systems, which rates citizens based on their behaviour or personality, and border control systems like the iBorderCtrl project to be shut down. The iBorderCtrl project is an experimental AI-powered lie detector system that screens travellers at EU borders.

Credit: Yves Herman via Reuters

The United Nations almost a month ago made a similar plea, calling for a ban on the use of remote biometric recognition technologies in public spaces, as reported by ABC News. The international organisation's report similarly cites algorithmic bias as a problem, noting some cases of wrongful arrests because of flawed facial recognition systems. They also slammed the lack of transparency in how these AI systems are implemented.

However, because the Parliament's resolution is non-binding, it cannot become law. But it does paint a good picture of where the European institution leans when voting on the upcoming AI Act. Politico notes that this new piece of legislation looks to regulate the use of algorithms and artificial intelligence in the continent. It will also limit the ability of law enforcement to use facial recognition technology in public spaces unless it's to fight kidnapping or terrorism.

It's too early to tell if there are security risks that might come with the banning of these systems. Politico reports that the call for a blanket ban on facial recognition comes in stark contrast to policies implemented by some EU member countries, who want to use them in bolstering their security.

In the U.S., some cities have already managed to adopt blanket bans of such systems. San Francisco in 2019 became the first major city in the country to ban the use of facial recognition software by police and other government agencies. It was later followed by Boston and Portland, Oregon, though no nationwide legislation have been passed so far.


Written by Kyle Chua


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