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Should the EU ban software that can pick a face out of the crowd?

This is the view of the growing political coalition – and has just received massive support from the third largest group in the EU parliament, where a majority is now in favor of banning facial recognition technology that scans crowds indiscriminately and in real time.

Support from Renew, which joins the Greens and Socialists and Democrats groups in support of the ban, shows how an increasing proportion of Europe’s political leaders are advocating restrictions on artificial intelligence that go far beyond anything else in other high-tech regions of the world, including the United States. Last week, POLITICO obtained a document detailing the new civil liability law for artificial intelligence applications – an avant-garde step towards a legal regime for autonomous programs and devices.

“We are going to ban what we believe is not in line with our values, implementation [of biometric identification] in a public space where we as Europeans believe we must be free from the risk of mass surveillance, ”said Dragoș Tudorache of Renew. “The first position in this house is to support a ban on this technology.”

Opponents of live face recognition technology say such tools are favored by authoritarian governments in places such as Russia and China keep track of dissidents or vulnerable minorities, and ultimately are dangerous to civil liberties. They also indicate the risk of racial profiling and breach of privacy, which has led to: big companies including IBM, Amazon and Microsoft to suspend sales of facial recognition tools to governments.

However, even as the EU seeks approval of the world’s first AI rulebook, the enthusiasm of EU lawmakers and some regulators to ban live facial recognition is likely to face stiff opposition from another group of stakeholders – countries wishing to retain facial recognition technology in their arsenals of security.

Home affairs ministers have been working hard to bring EU law on artificial intelligence Artificial Intelligence Act, does not tie their hands. And while the European Commission restricts companies from using facial recognition in public places, law enforcement leave wide exceptions to implementing the technology in cases involving searching for missing children, preventing terror*st att*cks or locating armed and dangerous criminals.

Mood change

For Renew, also known as the Liberals, support for the ban grew slowly after initial skepticism. But now they are lining up with left-wing lawmakers calling for a ban on live face recognition panache.

“The mood has changed … The majority of my group support the idea of ​​a ban,” said Tudorache, who previously served as Romania’s interior minister.

Currently the leading parliamentary negotiator on the new law on artificial intelligence, he it does not want the police to be exempted from using technology in certain cases as this would be “very difficult control and responsibility”.

European governments and companies are accelerating facial recognition experiments. Biometric algorithms that compare faces to real-time databases can use existing public camera networks.

Growing consensus in the European Parliament isolated the center-right lawmakers in the European People’s Party who pressed open the police more opportunities to use facial recognition | Genevieve Engel / European Union

This worries the European data protection supervisory authority, the EDPB, which last year called for prohibition of all facial recognition of persons in public spaces, which violates the fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of movement.

And over 50 European campaign groups have tried to convince lawmakers to ban.

“If it is allowed to be used even for exceptional purposes, it means the infrastructure will be there and you as a citizen will never know if it’s up and running,” said Daniel Leufer, an activist for the NGO Access Now. “This technology has no place in a society committed to democracy and fundamental rights.”

Liberal lawmakers are closer to the middle than fellow left-wingers Socialists, Democrats and Greens who want to go even further and ban facial recognition and the creation of biometric databases that collect photos from social media.

The growing consensus in the European Parliament isolated the center-right lawmakers in the European People’s Party, who were moving in the opposite direction to open up more opportunities for the police to recognize facial recognition.

Convincing EU countries

A real challenge The ban on facial recognition comes from EU governments sitting in the EU Council, where some countries, such as France, fear that banning the technology could seriously undermine public safety. With fresh memories of terror*st att*cks in recent years and plans to host the Olympic Games next year, Paris wants to have all the tools possible.

French judges support the supreme administrative court, saying it would be wrong to ban technology that could help identify a known terror*st in a large crowd at a mass event.

While Germany has pushed for strict technology restrictions, in general, EU governments have worked to ensure that the new AI law does not severely restrict law enforcement activities.

In line with the latest draft changes to the law introduced by EU countries and seen by POLITICO, European capitals are pushing to add more exceptions to law enforcement. In addition to searching for kidnapping victims and suspects, they would like the police to also be able to use real-time facial recognition to prevent any ‘significant threats’ to critical infrastructure. According to two EU diplomats, European governments could reach their final position by the end of the year.

For now, left-wing and liberal lawmakers are focused on maintaining the momentum to introduce the facial recognition ban until the European Parliament formally secures its voting position by the end of the year.

German liberal Svenja Hahn stressed that tense negotiations on such a sensitive topic were still ongoing.

“It will be one of the most intense battlefields,” she said. “Law enforcement is hoping facial recognition is a magic wand to fight crime, but it is not, there is a high risk of discrimination.”

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