The European Commission plans to set up an international facial recognition system to facilitate the exchange of information between police forces using a huge database. Official spokesmen reassure us that for the time being, only convicted criminals and “suspects”, i.e. everyone, will be included in the database.
The database in question would add facial recognition data to the one launched in 2005 by seven European countries: Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Austria. It envisages a centralised archive of identity profiles (fingerprints, DNA data and vehicle owner information) for law enforcement purposes at European level.
MEPs are ready to include millions of photos of faces in a facial recognition system in a bid to modernise police services across Europe. The law, known as Prüm II (*), plans to dramatically increase the amount of information that can be shared, including photos and driving licence information.
The European Commission’s proposal also states that police will have better automated access to shared information. Lawmakers say this will allow police across Europe to cooperate closely, with Europol playing a greater role.
As real-time facial recognition is not legal in Europe, police will only be able to use the database to identify people after the fact. They will be able to compare still images from CCTV cameras, photos from social media or the victim’s phone with photos of “suspects” in a database, all in order to identify someone or at least find matches.
The effectiveness of this type of technology is disputed, especially in relation to the margin of error of this matching and the responsibility of a potentially fallible artificial intelligence. To limit errors, a European Commission spokesperson said that a specialist would review potential matches and decide whether any were correct before taking any further action.
According to the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), Wojciech Wiewiorowski, this facial database is not limited to subjects linked to serious crimes, but could also include citizens linked to any other criminal offence, however minor, such as fines or walking dogs in the street without a muzzle.
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