[Tribune] Wikimedia France calls for a ban on biometric surveillance in public spaces

In a column published by Next INpact, Naphsica Papanicolaou, advocacy officer at Wikimedia France, advocates a ” clear and simple prohibition ‘The use of biometric identification systems in public spaces. A wish expressed in the context of the future European regulation on artificial intelligence.

Authoritarian technological monitoring or fundamental rights? The decision must be easy to make. In Europe and worldwide, the use of biometric identification systems (BIS), such as face recognition in public spaces, represents one of the greatest threats to fundamental rights and democracy that we have never seen.

Remote use of these systems destroys the anonymity of the public and brings the essence of our right to privacy, protection of personal data, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association (leading to the criminalization of the demonstration and causing an inhibiting effect), to equality and not – discrimination.

Without a clear and simple ban on the use of these new technologies in public space, all the places where we exercise our rights and where we gather as citizens will be transformed into places of mass surveillance where we will all be treated as suspects.

Non-hypothetical injury

Uyghur Muslims have been systematically persecuted by the Chinese government through face recognition. Pro-Democratic protesters and political opponents have been suppressed or targeted in Russia, Serbia and Hong Kong through the use – and in some cases simply the fear of use – of SIBs in public spaces.

There is also already significant evidence that French and European citizens have been systematically subjected to mass biometric monitoring. These are cases where LGBTQ + football fans, school children, patrons, shoppers or patrons of bars and places of worship are targeted and the damage is real and widespread.

Even some of the largest companies providing biometric monitoring systems, such as Microsoft, IBM and Amazon, have adopted moratoriums of their own free will because of the high risks and damages that these systems can cause. Similarly, Facebook has deleted its database of photos of faces.

The need for regulation is felt throughout Europe, and some Member States have already taken the lead: Italy was the first country to introduce a moratorium on face recognition in public places. Germany’s ruling coalition has called for a European moratorium on mass surveillance using biometric data, and Portugal has dropped a bill that would have led to the legalization of some of these practices. And the Belgian parliament is considering a moratorium on biometric monitoring.

For a ban on biometric remote monitoring in public spaces

The draft European regulation on artificial intelligence is the obvious tool that the European Parliament could use to create a coherent regulatory framework for data protection and individual freedoms. The EU is a pioneer in AI regulation, the rules adopted in Europe will affect practices and laws worldwide.

Will the EU allow mass surveillance technology that would be dangerous to our freedoms?

To protect fundamental rights, the AI ​​Act must prohibit all remote use (ie, widespread monitoring) of biometric identification (RBI) in publicly accessible spaces by:

  • extending the scope of the ban to all private actors as well as public actors;
  • to ensure that all use of biometric identification (real-time or a posteriori) in publicly accessible spaces is included in the prohibition;
  • remove exemptions from the ban, which independent human rights assessments confirm are not in line with existing European fundamental rights standards;
  • put an end to discriminatory or manipulative forms of biometric categorization;
  • manage the risks of emotion recognition correctly.

The EU aims to create a “ ecosystem of trust and expertise for AI, and to position itself as a world leader in reliable and ethical AI. By regulating the use of biometric data, we would have the opportunity to shape AI so that it is at the service of the people, and not a technology imposed on the people.

That is why we must ensure that the amendments tabled by the IMCO and LIBE Committees on the Regulation prohibit mass surveillance using biometric data.

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