EPP refuses call to ban public facial recognition systems for policing

MEPs for the first time call for a moratorium on the deployment of facial recognition systems for law enforcement purposes

Members of the European People’s Party (EPP) refused to support a resolution calling for strong safeguards against artificial intelligence tools being used in law enforcement.

In a resolution supported mainly by socialists S&D, the Greens, liberals Renew, and the Left (377 in favour) the European Parliament warned against the risk of algorithmic bias in AI, as well as the threat of discrimination and dangers to privacy.

Rapporteur Petar Vitanov (S&D, BG) said: “Fundamental rights are unconditional. For the first time ever, we are calling for a moratorium on the deployment of facial recognition systems for law enforcement purposes, as the technology has proven to be ineffective and often leads to discriminatory results. We are clearly opposed to predictive policing based on the use of AI as well as any processing of biometric data that leads to mass surveillance. This is a huge win for all European citizens.”

While all Maltese Labour MEPs voted in favour of the socialist-led report, Nationalist MEPs voted against.

Members called for a moratorium on the deployment of facial recognition systems for law enforcement purposes that have the function of identification, unless strictly used for the purpose of identification of victims of crime, until the technical standards can be considered fully fundamental rights compliant.

Malta was at one point considering such facial recognition CCTV systems for ‘crime hotspots’, such as Paceville.

The report calls for human supervision and strong legal powers to prevent discrimination by AI, especially in a law enforcement or border-crossing context.

The resolution also warns that AI-based identification systems already misidentify minority ethnic groups, LGBTI people, seniors and women at higher rates, which is particularly concerning in the context of law enforcement and the judiciary.

“To ensure that fundamental rights are upheld when using these technologies, algorithms should be transparent, traceable and sufficiently documented,” Vitanov said.

MEPs also called for a permanent ban on the automated recognition of individuals in public spaces, noting that citizens should only be monitored when suspected of a crime. The ban would also respect privacy and human dignity.

MEPs said the use of private facial recognition databases, like the Clearview AI system, which is already in use, and predictive policing based on behavioural data, should be forbidden, as well as social scoring systems, which try to rate the trustworthiness of citizens based on their behaviour or personality.

The EU is currently preparing its first set of rules to manage the opprtunities and threats of AI.

The European Commission wants to boost private and public investment in AI technologies to €20 billion per year. The European Parliament is working on the Commission proposal, presented on 21 April 2021, for turning Europe into the global hub for trustworthy AI.

MEPs have a special committee to analyse the impact of artificial intelligence on the EU economy. :Europe needs to develop AI that is trustworthy, eliminates biases and discrimination, and serves the common good, while ensuring business and industry thrive and generate economic prosperity,” committee chair Dragoș Tudorache said.

MEPs have already adopted three reports outlining how the EU can best regulate AI while boosting innovation, ethical standards and trust in technology.

On 20 January 2021, Parliament proposed guidelines for military and non-military use of AI, especially in areas such as military, justice and health.

On 19 May 2021, MEPs adopted a report on the use of AI in education, culture and the audiovisual sector, calling for AI technologies to be designed in a way that prevents gender, social or cultural bias and protects diversity.

Ewropej Funded by the European Union

This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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