Study: More and more biometric mass surveillance in Germany


“The use of biometric mass surveillance in public spaces has increased in recent years and has crept into common practice.” This is the conclusion drawn by experts from the Edinburgh International Justice Initiative (EIJI) in a report published on Wednesday for the civil rights organization European Digital Rights (EDRi) using Germany, the Netherlands and Poland as examples. They warn of a “Wild West” in which private companies and the state control people at all times.

In view of the strong connection between actors from the economy and public institutions, according to the researchers, automated facial recognition has “gradually developed beyond a tool for solving supposedly urgent questions of public interest into a broad market”. This is now expanding “to the monitoring of petty offenses and non-criminal acts”.

The authors refer to the controversial test of systems for video surveillance with face recognition by Deutsche Bahn and the federal police at Berlin’s Südkreuz train station, the continuous use of “intelligent” video analyzes by the railways and the search for rioters by the Hamburg police using biometric technology the G20 summit.

In Cologne, such systems were also set up outside of LGBTQ + meeting places, religious institutions, medical practices and law firms without legitimate justification, although this represents a deep encroachment on fundamental rights and could intensify the repression of marginalized groups, the researchers warn. The number of hits is low and the benefit for the public interest is negligible. They are used less as a response to specific threats, but rather “indiscriminately as a precautionary or deterrent measure”.

The scientists also emphasize that the inclusion of biometric data such as fingerprints and facial images in national identity documents, as was done in Germany and Poland, “is not legitimate”. Due to the mandatory nature of these documents, biometric features would be recorded indiscriminately and en masse. In addition, there is increasing pressure in this country, for example from the Commission for the Protection of Minors in the Media (KJM), to prove that you are of legal age in order to access online services using the video identification process.

Furthermore, the authorities have used the Covid 19 pandemic as a “Trojan horse” to expand surveillance measures, the authors complain. The police in Poland continue to visit the homes of citizens who are obliged to use a facial recognition app for quarantine at home. In Germany, the technology was used, for example, to identify mask wearers.

In the Study is also carried outthat the Dutch police apparently used financial incentives and psychological tricks such as “dark patterns” to get citizens to share private surveillance material with investigators for biometric analysis. This would circumvent applicable national laws.

According to EU law, “each of us is innocent until proven guilty,” added EDRi policy advisor Ella Jakubowska. However, “the spread of biometric mass surveillance practices across Europe” is turning this principle on its head. For the umbrella organization, the investigation is “further evidence of the need for the EU to prohibit these practices and enforce fundamental rights and the rule of law”.

EDRi had previously requested red lines for AI applications such as social scoring. The organization supports the EU citizens’ initiative “Reclaim your Face” against biometric face recognition in public spaces. Margrethe Vestager, Vice President of the EU Commission for Digital, asserts at every opportunity that Europe is “not a continent of mass surveillance”. However, the draft of the commission for AI rules leaves room for the use of biometric searches.


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