Europe’s parliament says it won’t use facial recognition, in response to leaked memo

Europe’s parliament says it won’t use facial recognition, in response to leaked memo
Digital sovereignty

The European Parliament has clarified that it won’t use facial recognition technology, responding to the leak of an internal memo suggesting it could be used for “biometric-based security and services to members,” according to The Guardian.

The page has been removed from the parliament’s “digital transformation programme,” and a spokesperson said there “is no project of facial recognition in the European parliament,” and that such a plan is “not foreseen at any level.”

The leak caused controversy in part because it contradicted upcoming plans by the European Commission to announce a temporary ban on the use of the technology in public places, expected to be formally announced later this month.  

The ban would last three to five years, and would prevent the use of facial recognition in places such as transit stations, stadiums, and shopping centers. The moratorium would allow regulators more time to assess the impact the technology would have on civil liberties and personal data. 

A draft document for the ban cited the right of Europeans, under the general data protection regulation, “not to be subject of a decision based solely on automated processing, including profiling.”

Dutch Liberal MEP Sophia in ’t Veld, a member of the parliament’s civil liberties committee, questioned how members could benefit from “biometric-based security and services,” in a reference to the leaked memo. She also raised concerns over cost and whether its use would be legal under data protection regulations, writing to parliament’s top official. 

A spokesperson explained that the page was published accidentally, “misplaced” on the parliament’s intranet, from an “an old and outdated draft version” of an exploratory project. 

According to the spokesperson:

“One exploratory project of the EP administration is to study and understand the potentials and threats of AI applied to parliamentary and administrative activities of the institution. This old draft mentioned facial recognition as a possible field of study, nothing more. Data protection is and remains a clear priority of the European parliament and its administration.”

The use of facial recognition has been on the rise in parts of Europe, including the UK, where London’s Metropolitan Police have announced plans to deploy the technology to detect individuals on watchlists. The move followed a ruling by the high court in London, saying that police in South Wales did not act illegally or violate human rights with their own use of facial recognition.  

The UK has begun the process of withdrawal from the European Union, but European law will continue to apply during a transitional period that will last at least until the end of this year. 

Photo by ElasticComputeFarm from Pixabay