EU AI rules: real-time face recognition is to be largely banned


The European Union is to become the “global center for trustworthy artificial intelligence” (AI). A draft regulation by the EU Commission provides for a graduated pyramid concept for algorithmic decision-making systems with rules of conduct, minimum standards and prohibitions. The following applies: the higher the dangers, the stricter the rules.

The approach based on biometric mass surveillance in public spaces was particularly controversial in the run-up. A draft leaked last week provided for a general ban, but also broad exceptions for the use of the technology by security authorities. This led to protests from MEPs and academics. Thousands of signatories of the “Reclaim Your Face” petition are also demanding a general veto.

In that on Wednesday presented draft regulation differentiates the Commission more. She proposes a fundamental ban on “biometric real-time remote identification in public space”. One of these relates to video surveillance with automated face recognition, as tested by the federal police at Berlin’s Südkreuz train station.

This technique “poses a particular risk to the respect of fundamental rights, in particular with regard to human dignity, respect for private and family life, the protection of personal data and non-discrimination”, underlines the Commission. Biometric real-time identification could create a feeling of “constant surveillance” and dissuade citizens from exercising their right to freedom of assembly. Nevertheless, the authority provides for exceptions for law enforcement, which are “narrowly defined”, limited and strictly defined.

As examples, the Commission cites the targeted search for specific potential crime victims or missing children, the prevention of an imminent terrorist attack or the detection and identification of people who have committed “serious crimes”. The corresponding catalog of offenses is to be linked to the European arrest warrant, which includes 32 crimes including computer crime and racism – but only for crimes for which a maximum prison sentence of at least three years is available in the respective member state.

“There is no place for mass surveillance in our society,” emphasized the Commission Vice-President, Margrethe Vestager, who is responsible for digital issues. Should an EU country want to make use of the exemptions, it must first create a corresponding legal basis and then have the application monitored by a suitable judicial authority. In addition, the requirements from the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) must be observed. Biometric body characteristics are considered to be particularly sensitive information.

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