Facial recognition tech could be illegal in EU, regulators warn

By on 18/06/2020 | Updated on 24/09/2020
A woman’s face is scanned at an airport. Clearview AI denies that its image-search facial recognition technology is being used in the EU. (Photo by Chris Rank/Rank Studios, Delta News Hub via flickr).

Artificial intelligence (AI) facial recognition technologies are likely to be illegal in the European Union, according to a prominent group of privacy regulators.

The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) – a committee of national privacy regulators – raised concerns about “certain developments in facial recognition technologies” last week. “The use of a service such as Clearview AI by law enforcement authorities in the European Union would, as it stands, likely not be consistent with the EU data protection regime,” it said.

Software produced by US-based Clearview AI allows organisations to match pictures of people’s faces to a database containing billions of images that have been scraped from social media platforms and other websites. The EDPB commented that law enforcement authorities may process biometric data for the “purpose of uniquely identifying a natural person”, but only in accordance with the strict conditions of the EU’s 2016 Law Enforcement Directive. It added that it doubts whether “any union or member state law provides a legal basis for using a service such as the one offered by Clearview AI” and that therefore, the lawfulness of such use by EU law enforcement authorities “cannot be ascertained”.

Is Big Brother watching?

Buzzfeed reported in February that Clearview AI technology is being used in 26 European countries including France, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK. The report stated that Clearview has “engaged” with national law enforcement agencies, government bodies, and police forces in those countries.

However, Clearview AI’s CEO Hoan Ton-That has denied this. The company’s “image-search technology is not currently available in the European Union,” he said, as reported by CNBC.  

Over 600 US law enforcement agencies are using Clearview AI’s technology, according to The New York Times. Some cities, including San Francisco, have banned facial recognition technology, which can produce biased – and often racially biased – outcomes.

Following the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police, IBM vowed last week that it would no longer develop or sell facial recognition technology. Meanwhile, Amazon has announced it would stop selling its controversial Rekonition platform to police for a year, and Microsoft has said that it will not sell its facial recognition technology to US police departments until the country approves national regulation of the technology.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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