We see many calls for a moratorium on face surveillance passing by. We fear that this will mainly buy time in which Mass Biometrics Surveillance Technology normalizes. If we want to keep face recognition out of our public space, we will have to be braver.Credits: Ash Edmonds on Unsplash At the PrivacyCamp Read more about this year ‘s digital rights conference PrivacyCamp , we exchanged views on regulating face recognition and other 5G Biometrics Surveillance technologies with the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) and a broad representation of civil society. For this meeting we put our view on the use of Biometrics surveillance technology in public space on paper. Our contribution You can read the original contribution in English here.
A moratorium will not help us win the battle
We have recently seen several pleas for a moratorium on face surveillance. A moratorium is a stop to the application until certain objections are met. The most frequently heard arguments are the lack of demonstrable necessity, the biased and inaccurate nature of the technology and finally the lack of laws and regulations. No matter how valid these arguments are, we believe they won’t help us win this fight.
First, the focus on “necessity.” We fully agree with the European regulator that any violation of our fundamental rights must be demonstrably necessary. Read here the EDPS blog about face recognition and that convenience and efficiency are not a demonstrable necessity. How many surveillance measures have we, however, seen introduced with a poorly motivated, let alone demonstrable need? Unfortunately, when it comes to protection, we really need more.”Why would facial recognition databases be exempt from government hunger?”
Secondly, there is the issue of inaccuracy and bias. Our concern with regard to advocating a moratorium based on technological shortcomings is that these could ultimately be resolved. At least, that the percentage of false positives and negatives is reduced to a level that our political leaders see as acceptable. More importantly, however, we may have to deal with a technology that becomes more dangerous the better it works: not when it gives you access to your phone, but certainly when it is used as a mass surveillance tool.
Finally, the call for regulation may suggest that current legislation is ambiguous about the acceptability of face surveillance. We must be very clear about the fact that the assessment of face surveillance in the light of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and the General Data Protection Regulation leave no room for its use in public space, because biometric data must be processed on a large scale for this. Point.”The law leaves no room for the deployment of face surveillance in public spaces, because it requires biometric data processing on a large scale.”
Why we should be braver
What a moratorium will mainly deliver is time. Time in which the technology is normalized. Time in which the industry uses its lobbyists. Time in which the companies at the forefront of product development will align their products with the market. Time in which civil society will have to mobilize people again and again until they become tired and dull and no longer believe that their voice makes any difference.That is why we are concerned that the requirement of a moratorium is not strong enough. We believe that existing regulations must be strictly enforced, thereby prohibiting the use of face recognition as a surveillance tool in the public domain.
The costs for our liberties are too large
Firstly, there is no doubt that we are dealing with a mass surveillance instrument that will seriously limit our rights and freedoms. No balancing of interests or proportionality can justify the infringement that face surveillance makes.”We are dealing with a technology that may become more dangerous as it works better”
It is incompatible with the laws that protect our data
Secondly, in our opinion, face surveillance in the public space is incompatible with our data protection framework. Biometric data are extremely sensitive and care is required to limit the processing of this data as much as possible, while facial recognition in the public space requires massive processing of this data. A 2016 study shows that half of adults in the United States are included in a database for face recognition through enforcement. In the Netherlands this is 1 in 12 adults Read here what we said about it at RTL News . We cannot avoid the public space. We cannot change our face or leave it at home. So let’s treat our face as something valuable.
Never underestimate a good function creep
Finally, we are concerned that we cannot keep the use of face surveillance within the limits to be set. History has taught us that we should not underestimate a good ‘ function creep ‘. There are various ways in which the use and effects of face surveillance can increase over time. Firstly, the legal basis and / or the scope of the basis can be expanded. Limiting the use of such far-reaching technology to combat terrorism may sound limited, but the limitation, and therefore the protection, depend on classifications from the government. Various examples from around the world, including the Netherlands, show that even non-violent interest groups are classified as “extremist” or “terrorist” when more powers to control these groups are desired. A second example of how function creep can take place is access to data. Under the guise of fraud prevention, government institutions are happy to give each other access to data and combine databases. Why would facial recognition databases be exempt from this hunger for data?
Stop (offline) follow
Calling for a moratorium is risky. We believe we should be braver. We largely agree that our human rights and data protection frameworks protect citizens against online tracking. We must now agree that they do the same offline.Many thanks to Amber Balhuizen for translating this text and to Jasper Sprengers for editing it.
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