EU data regulators call for facial recognition ban in public spaces

They also said it should be illegal to use AI for social credit scoring.

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European Union data protection regulators have called for a general ban on using artificial intelligence for facial recognition and other "biometric and behavioral signals" in public spaces. In their joint opinion, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) and the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) also said using AI for social scoring should be outlawed.

The EDPB and EDPS urged the bloc to prohibit AI “recognition of faces, gait, fingerprints, DNA, voice, keystrokes and other biometric or behavioral signals, in any context” in publicly accessible areas. They said it should be illegal for AI systems to use biometrics to categorize people "into clusters based on ethnicity, gender, political or sexual orientation," or other types of classification under which they could be discriminated against.

On top of that, the EDPB and EDPS argued that there should be a ban on using AI to "infer emotions of a natural person." It would be allowed in specific situations, such as on certain medical grounds.

The regulators were responding to an AI regulatory framework proposed by the European Commission (the EU's executive branch). The document suggests a ban on various implementations of AI, including social scoring and "the use of ‘real-time’ remote biometric identification systems in publicly accessible spaces for the purpose of law enforcement." There'd be a few exceptions, including helping authorities find missing children and preventing a "specific, substantial and imminent threat," such as a terrorist attack.

The EDPB's members include data protection watchdogs from each EU member country, while the EDPS ensures EU institutions and bodies respect peoples' rights to data protection and privacy when they handle personal data. The EC's proposal earmarks the EDPS as "the competent authority and the market surveillance authority" for supervising EU agencies.

However, the EDPB and EDPS called for more clarification on the role and duties of the latter under the framework. They also expressed concern that the scope of the proposal excludes "international law enforcement cooperation."

“Deploying remote biometric identification in publicly accessible spaces means the end of anonymity in those places,” EDPB chair Andrea Jelinek and European Data Protection Supervisor Wojciech Wiewiórowski said in a statement. "A general ban on the use of facial recognition in publicly accessible areas is the necessary starting point if we want to preserve our freedoms and create a human-centric legal framework for AI. The proposed regulation should also prohibit any type of use of AI for social scoring, as it is against the EU fundamental values and can lead to discrimination."