EU considers banning facial recognition technology in public spaces

A potential ban could last for five years to allow lawmakers to catch up.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

The European Union is debating a potential ban on the use of facial recognition technologies in public areas. 

Facial recognition-equipped systems, such as those found in mobile devices and cameras, are advocated by law enforcement as a way to track missing persons and as useful tools in criminal investigations. 

However, critics say this technology is susceptible to abuse and its use without the consent of the general public undermines our right to privacy. 

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As the development of facial recognition technologies gains traction, lawmakers have been left with the task of working out how to control its use. 

The EU, as reported by Reuters, is considering a ban of up to five years on facial recognition in public areas -- potentially including locations such as parks, tourist hotspots, and sports venues -- to give politicians time to thrash out legislation to prevent its abuse. 

The proposals, as seen by the publication, are part of an 18-page whitepaper that suggests a ban could permit the time to create a "sound methodology for assessing the impacts of this technology and possible risk management measures."

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However, exceptions could be made to a blanket ban for the purposes of security and research. Feedback on the proposals will be sought before a decision is made. 

How much we are willing to tolerate facial recognition technology in public places is still up for debate. A recent experiment in which the UK's South Wales police were equipped with facial recognition technology outside Cardiff stadium to monitor for visitors blacklisted due to poor past behavior resulted in protests. 

Last year, the UK's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) launched an investigation into the use of facial recognition technology at King's Cross to track commuters and visitors without their knowledge or consent, deeming the practice a "potential threat to privacy that should concern us all."

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In the United States, politicians have expressed concern over the accuracy and adoption of these technologies. At a hearing on Wednesday, it was argued that corporations should not be allowed to 'race ahead' before laws and restrictions are cemented in place to manage privacy rights. 

Lawmakers also discussed the issue of misidentification, in which biases can lead to issues when identifying women and people of color. 

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