The Intercept investigative non-profit news organization has cited a report obtained from an unnamed European official as saying that the EU is mulling creating a network of national police facial recognition databases.
According to the leaked report, police forces from 10 EU members led by Austria want the introduction of the bloc’s legislation for interconnecting facial recognition databases in every EU member state.
The report was part of efforts to expand the mandate of the EU-wide Prum Convention, which stipulates the sharing of DNA, fingerprint, and vehicle registration databases for mutual searching.
The convention urges Europol to play a role in exchanging facial recognition and other biometric data with non-EU member states, which prompted fears that the planned network would be connected to similar databases in the US.
Preparatory work for the new legislation to greenlight facial recognition network is already under way, The Intercept reported, referring to the European Commission allocating €500,000 ($542,000) to a consortium of public agencies led by the Estonian Forensic Science Institute.
The goal is “to map the current situation of facial recognition in criminal investigations in all EU member states” so that they can move “towards the possible exchange of facial data”, something that is expected to help police quickly identify unknown suspects.
Rights Activists Blow Whistle on New Facial Network
Human rights advocates, however, expressed concern over the new network-related possible violations of privacy and First Amendment expressions, shared with the US.
Edin Omanovic, advocacy director for the London-based Privacy International, told The Intercept about a serious risk of facial data being used for illegal “politically motivated surveillance”.
“This is concerning on a national level and on a European level, especially as some EU countries veer towards more authoritarian governments. Without the transparency and legal safeguards for facial recognition technology to be lawful there should be a moratorium on it”, Omanovic said.
Neema Singh Guliani, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, was quoted by The Intercept as saying that the creation of a pan-European Facial Recognition Network “raises many questions”.
“How police are using facial recognition and gathering images, as well as in the US with regard to due process and First Amendment expression. Given existing information sharing relationships, it’s very likely that the US would want access to that information”, she asserted.
Back as 2004, the US Embassy in Brussels called for a collaboration with the EU that allowed for “expansive exchanges and sharing all forms of data”, including personal information.
This was followed by Austria starting to check fingerprints against the FBI's criminal finger databases in October 2017, resulting in the cross-checking of about 12,000 individuals' prints.