This petition introduces the campaign for the permanent ban of Facial Recognition used for identification and profiling in all of Europe. An initiative by the activist Paolo Cirio in alliance with La Quadrature du Net, We Sign It, and thanks to the research of European Digital Rights (EDRi).
Automated Facial Recognition technology has already been rolled out in EU member states without public consultation. We demand the Members of the European Parliament and the European Commission to take seriously this enormous threat to human rights and our civil society and to legislate for the immediate and permanent ban on identification and profiling via Facial Recognition technology in all of Europe.
Facial Recognition is a particularly invasive technology. It’s not only about the surveillance of activists, suspects, and minorities, but it is an invasion of privacy for everyone and an enormous danger to democratic freedoms, civil liberties, and free expression for the whole society.
Currently, police agencies and security departments of individual European states, in concert with the tech industry, lobby against the European institutions for the use of Facial Recognition technology. In response, this petition aims to challenge the objections made by individual member states on the banning of Facial Recognition and demands the European Commission to start infringement proceedings against Member States that are breaching EU laws already by using Facial Recognition.
Several member states of Europe already use Facial Recognition for security, social control, and public services. For instance, it was implemented in train stations in Germany, during the lockdown in Poland, and it’s planned for a national ID in France where police already use it in public spaces. Meanwhile, in the United States, Facial Recognition has been banned in several cities and it was even recently limited by big tech companies such as Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft from June 2020.
Europe must align with a definitive ban on Facial Recognition for its leadership on human rights. However, in January 2020, it was revealed that a European Commission withdrew its plan to ban Facial Recognition technology for five years, a plan which was probably rejected by individual EU Member States policing agendas. This proves how the European Union is unreliable and vague on these critical matters about Facial Recognition technology.
Today, Facial Recognition in Europe is deployed without transparency or public debate, and is used outside of any coordinated and coherent legal framework. Their promoters have blind faith in this technology and often push to accelerate its proliferation regardless of the inevitable consequences for our freedoms.
Europe must straighten their privacy laws and tackle Facial Recognition radically with a total ban of its misuse. Over 80% of Europeans are already against sharing their facial image with authorities. Make this opinion count with this petition to ban Facial Recognition in all Europe.
Join the fight against Facial Recognition technology:
Sign the petition, join the campaign, take action, stay informed, and share this call.
For our campaign and petition use our hashtag #BanFacialRecognitionEU
This petition was possible thanks to the research and analysis of European Digital Rights (EDRi).
Why Facial Recognition is too dangerous
There are several technologies that are highly invasive of privacy, especially with biometrics. Among them, Facial Recognition is particularly violating and biased. Faces carry social meanings and they are hard to hide as they are our main means of communication. Faces are the most public parts of humans and their traits serve as the metrics for social judgment. We consider Facial Recognition too dangerous for citizens as it can turn one of our main means of sociality against us, turning our faces into tracking devices rather than the core component of ourselves.
Beyond social control, discrimination, and surveillance, this is about the privacy of everyone. Everybody is in danger when such an instrument is allowed without rules. It’s not only about the police or corporations using Facial Recognition for security or mining of data, but it is how this technology becomes culturally pervasive and normalized, ultimately inducing fear in everyone’s life. It creates a false sense that being watched and analysed at all times is acceptable and creates societies filled with suspicion, abuse, and mistrust.
Facial Recognition technology is also worsened by “behavioural prediction” which claims of being able to classify a person’s emotions or intentions but fundamentally threatens human dignity and autonomy. Facial Recognition coupled with so-called artificial intelligence in the form of machine learning algorithms increase power imbalances, discrimination, racism, inequalities, and authoritarian societal control. There are too many high risks for any alleged “benefits” that the use of these technologies could ever conceivably bring.
Across Europe, governments, private companies, and also civilians seek the use of Facial Recognition. We already saw its use in workplaces, public spaces, schools, airports, houses, and in our own personal phones. These implementations of Facial Recognition often go beyond our consent, or we are often forced to consent, while the long-term consequences of storing biometric data and training artificial intelligence to analyse our faces might go beyond our control and the institutions we trust.
No argument can justify the deployment of such technologies. Civil, Commercial, and Governmental use of Facial Recognition devices for identification and categorisation of individuals must be strictly banned. Any Facial Recognition technology sold commercially or developed and used privately for this scope must be stopped.
Facial Recognition needs to be banned, not only regulated
Regulations are not enough and they would fail to tackle this technology because of the scale of its danger.
Facial Recognition infringes upon the right to dignity as it uses people’s own qualities, behaviours, emotions, or characteristics against them in ways that are not justified or proportionate to the EU’s fundamental rights or for individual national laws. For instance, current European regulations like the GDPR mainly cover citizens’ privacy in the commercial sector with several exceptions, however, it doesn’t sufficiently address the human rights that are in peril with Facial Recognition such as the right to dignity and equality.
Much like nuclear or chemical weapons, Facial Recognition poses a great threat to humanity. Its use for identification and profiling is certainly too dangerous to be used at all. It should be banned not only by the European Union but also globally by the United Nations.
There are false beliefs about Facial Recognition’s effectiveness and usefulness that justify its use within regulations. However, even for security, there are serious doubts if the police really need it or if it helps to provide better services. Private actors are gaining disproportionate power over the technology that has often been developed without accountability and transparency. Often, these technologies are sold to public authorities and law enforcement with little or no liability for their actions.
Beyond government and corporate surveillance, there are now huge amounts of public data on Internet websites, social media platforms, and open datasets that everyone can harvest or buy. Also, the infrastructures of the devices that capture images of faces are already ubiquitous with CCTV cameras, smartphones, and video scanners across our public and private lives. These conditions make Facial Recognition particularly dangerous among other technologies that can identify, track, and judge people.
Today, Facial Recognition is already in our smartphones, passport controls at airports, and public spaces. Using Facial Recognition for local one-to-one face authentication to unlock a smartphone or to access a service looks far less intrusive than identifying an individual among many individuals in a public place. However, the development of the technology itself, the training of algorithms, and the storage of the biometric data held by private companies could, in the future, be used beyond the initial scope. Even when we give consent or use Facial Recognition in private, we risk that such data could cause future unintentional consequences such as leaks of biometric data, the sales of it to third parties, or the training of algorithms on our personal traits.
Therefore we reject both exceptions of using Facial Recognition in regards to innovation for the tech industry and for public security. We call for a total ban for all cases of Facial Recognition technologies regarding its use for any form of identification, correlation, and discrimination which would enable mass surveillance, hate crimes, ubiquitous stalking, and violations of personal dignity. It would still be possible for research, medical, and entertainment purposes under the conditions that no biometric data is stored or used to identify or classify individuals.
We argue that Facial Recognition is already illegal under EU law and must be banned in practice. Four European instruments already prohibit biometric mass surveillance: in the broadest sense, the European Convention on Human Rights and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and more specifically, the Council of Europe Data Protection Convention, the GDPR, and its sister instrument, the LED. However, national data protection authorities (DPAs) have been inadequately resourced and politically disempowered by their member states, meaning that their efforts to enforce regulations have suffered, and actors in violation of the law have faced few incentives to comply.
That’s why we need new laws to enforce a ban on Facial Recognition and not only weak regulations that can be interpreted and not enforced by the EU on its individual Member States and their MPs.
Identification and classification by Facial Recognition are too dangerous that it will never be necessary and proportionate since potential beneficial uses are not justified.
What we need to get Facial Recognition banned in EU
We need to take action at the European Parliament to draw attention to this issue in its Member States, as well as to put pressure on the European Commission to take enforcement action against the States that are currently violating EU fundamental rights and privacy laws. The total ban on identification and profiling via Facial Recognition technology shouldn’t be just a directive but it must be a rigid ban to be enforceable throughout Europe without exceptions and expiration.
In the European Union there are already laws that ban biometric mass surveillance, but they're not being applied. Protests, petitions, and strategic litigations can potentially be very effective in applying these existing laws and introducing a EU-wide ban.
On the streets and online, through protests and other forms of action, citizens and collectives across the world are teaming up to stop the fateful spread of Facial Recognition. Together, we are part of a wide movement resisting the advent of Face Recognition in all of Europe and globally.
Fight back and tell us if you see Facial Recognition used in schools, gated communities and buildings, IDs and badges, public services, lock devices, mobile applications, Internet platforms, and even if it’s for entertainment or personal use or if it is used by the police, border control, law enforcement agencies, and investigators.
We ask the European Commission and the European Court of Justice to evaluate the cases we assembled about Facial Recognition programs in Europe for making these current and future uses illegal. If the European Commission, supported by the European Parliament, does not take the appropriate enforcement and legislative action to forbid such a technology, we plan to bring the cases to the European Court of Justice on the basis of current LED directives, GDPR regulations, Council of Europe Data Protection Convention, and national data protection laws, including European Convention on Human Rights and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Today, we express our collective refusal of these tools of social control by urging policymakers to ban them once and for all.
Cases and details - Facial Recognition in Europe
As of May 2020, at least 15 European countries have experimented with biometric technologies such as Facial Recognition in public spaces. At a minimum, there are activities happening in Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Sweden, and Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
This list demonstrates how the lack of a coherent legislation surrounding Facial Recognition is causing Member States of the EU to take individual initiatives, have lax oversight, and make actual use of such dangerous technology.
We demand greater public transparency of and accountability on the parties - whether public, private or collaborations between the two - who are deploying biometric processing, as well as data exchanges between law enforcement, border security, other public security agencies, including health, and national security agencies.
As of 2020
The French police already use Facial Recognition to identify people in public spaces. They use photos of people stored in the prior criminal records database TAJ (the "Traitement des antécédents judiciaires"). There are more than 18 million records of individuals in this database with more than 8 million photos. The use of Facial Recognition in this database in France has been allowed since 2012 and is currently being challenged in front of national courts.
France is poised to become the first European country to use Facial Recognition technology to give citizens a digital identity - whether they want it or not. Saying that he wants to make the state more efficient, President Emmanuel Macron is pushing through plans to roll out an ID program based on Facial Recognition called Alicem as part of his government.
The Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) regional authority asked France’s data protection authority, the CNIL, for permission to use a Facial Recognition system to manage entry at Ampère high-school in Marseille. This “trial” was intended to be a year-long experiment and was also carried out at another school in the same region (the Lycée les Eucalyptus in Nice). This use was designed to increase the security of both students and staff and to quicken the time it takes for students to enter the school premises. These attempts of using Facial Recognition in the two French schools were stopped by a lawsuit in 2020.
“PARAFE” is a program for automated border gates already installed in various stations and airports in France. The gates use Facial Recognition technology to verify the user's identity against the data stored in the chip in their biometric passport. The program was developed by the French company Thales.
Germany’s Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer, plans to use automatic Facial Recognition at 134 railway stations and 14 airports, according to a news report published on 3 January 2020. The interior ministry tested Facial Recognition cameras as early as 2018 at the Berlin-Südkreuz station. The result was that 80% of the people were correctly identified. After the 2018 tests, Interior Minister Seehofer said that Facial Recognition systems would “make police work even more efficient, thus improving security for citizens”.
Poland’s mandatory Facial Recognition-based app was used to enforce quarantine. It sent the police to the home of anyone that fails to share a selfie on the app within 20 minutes of an alert.
Police in Scotland said it hoped to use live Facial Recognition software by 2026, but later put the plans on hold. The technology can scan crowds of people and cross-reference faces with police databases.
Facial Recognition was in use by high-school students in Sweden to keep track of attendance in the Skelleftea municipality. The trial, which took place in autumn 2018, had been so successful that the local authority was considering extending it. However, Sweden judges and data protection authorities blocked the experimentation of Facial Recognition in schools.
The SPIRIT is a European funded project to scrape social media images of faces to build a database for Facial Recognition analysis. Five law enforcement-related stakeholders participate in this research project: the Hellenic Police (GR), the West Midlands Police (UK), the Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley (UK), the Serbian Ministry of Interior (RS), and the Police Academy in Szczytno (PL). According to the sparse and nontransparent website, the project aims to use tools, such as face extraction and matching, to correlate information from social media data similar to the model of the U.S. company Clearview AI. According to freedom of information requests, trials were planned for 2020 and 2021.
The iBorderCtrl is a European funded research project on the Hungarian, Greek, and Latvian borders. The project planned to use automated analysis of biometric data to predict evidence of deception among those looking to enter the European Union as “lie detectors” for refugees. The project came to an end in August 2019.
The Prum System is an EU-wide initiative connecting DNA, fingerprint, and vehicle registration databases for mutual searching. Ten European member states, led by Austria, call to expand the Prum System and create a network of national police facial recognition databases and interconnect such databases to every member of state with networks of police facial databases spanning the whole of Europe and the U.S.
The “EU security-industrial complex” leads to the promotion, defense, and use of “securitisation” technologies. The agencies Europol and Frontex already use advanced biometric technology to survey borders and profile travellers.
Foreign countries and companies in Europe
The scraping of social media and the brokerage of datasets goes beyond borders, with companies and state actors interested in harvesting, scanning images, and building databases of biometric data of European citizens.
This is already happening with Clearview AI, an American company that scrapes images from social networks, and with FindFace, a face recognition technology developed by the Russian company NtechLab.
The use of these tools goes beyond Europe with foreign entities that are allowed to use Facial Recognition technology on European citizens. Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple also assemble huge databases of biometric facial data of European citizens and use it to train their artificial intelligence without transparency and accountability. Products such as Ring of Amazon, Apple Face ID, Google Lens, and Facebook facial recognition features should be forbidden to use on all European citizens.