The “Reclaim Your Face” alliance, founded in November, which calls for a ban on biometric face recognition and other forms of automated mass surveillance based on body characteristics, can be launched as an official European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI). The EU Commission gave the green light for this on Thursday and registered the civil society action as an EBI. This will allow the organizers to start collecting signatures in support of their proposal within the next six months.
One million EU citizens
The citizens’ initiative should be open to signing from mid-February. If it is signed by a million EU citizens from at least seven different Member States within a year, the Commission has to respond within six months. The government institution in Brussels is free to decide whether or not to comply with the request. In any case, it must justify its decision publicly.
In principle, an initiative is admissible if the proposed measure is not manifestly outside the framework within which the Commission can make a proposal for a legal act. In addition, a claim must not be recognizably abusive, dubious or harassing and not obviously violate the values of the community.
The civil rights organizations Hermes Center (Italy), Homo Digitalis (Greece), Bits of Freedom (Netherlands), Iuridicum Remedium (Czech Republic), Share Foundation (Serbia), Access Now and the umbrella association European Digital Rights (EDRi) have “Reclaim Your Face” brought to life. So far, a total of 22 civil society groups have supported the appeal. Above all, they want to protect and preserve public spaces as places of free expression for all citizens.
Discrimination and surveillance
The initiative “works for a society in which each of us can live without being treated as suspicious for who we are or what we look like,” said Ella Jakubowska from EDRi. She welcomed the Commission’s move, as biometric techniques are “used for discrimination and surveillance purposes”. They discouraged people from “living freely, expressing themselves and organizing in public”.
Last year, Commission Vice-President Margrethe Vestager brought a temporary ban on automated facial recognition in public spaces into play, but later no longer considered such a step necessary.