EU Forges Ahead With Plans for a Global Facial Recognition Hub

The European Commission is seeking to “modernize” its policing throughout the continent, with facial recognition becoming the latest addition to the melting pot as part of recent Prüm II proposals on data-sharing between European Union (EU) nations. For well over a decade now, police forces across Europe have been legally permitted to share DNA and fingerprint data with their counterparts, as well as information on the registered keeper of road vehicles. For instance, a German police force could request DNA data on a French suspect from their counterparts across the border. In December 2021, the Prüm II proposals included the use of facial recognition to make the world an even smaller place.

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Modern authentication methods have become increasingly reliant on biometrics like facial or fingerprint recognition as a form of identity verification online and within mobile devices, giving secure access to sensitive data or services ending the overreliance on passwords. The use of passwordless authentication and security measures like biometrics optimizes user interaction with the login process of digital accounts and platforms.

They are perceived to be much less susceptible to data attacks, whilst increasing the reliability and credibility of real-world data. European lawmakers have advanced proposals that would bring facial recognition into the passwordless mix, enforcing police forces to share their photo databases with forces in fellow EU nations. Ella Jakubowska, policy adviser at the NGO European Digital Rights (EDRi), described the development as the “most extensive biometric surveillance infrastructure” the world has ever seen.

Has Prüm been enough of a success for Prüm II to prevail?

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The first version of Prüm was signed and sealed in 2005 between seven leading EU nations. The likes of France, Germany, Spain, and Belgium agreed to share data with one another in the interest of tackling cross-border crime. Ongoing take-up of Prüm across the full 27 EU members has been mixed, to say the least, in recent years. However, Prüm II bids to go significantly further still. Not only will Prüm II seek to enforce sharing of facial recognition data, it will also encourage the sharing of driving license data.

The theory behind the European Commission’s proposals is to give police forces greater autonomy and encourage closer collaboration between police forces within the EU. The proposals also seek to give Europol a “stronger role” going forward. The sharing of millions of facial images would also be coupled with the ability of police forces to execute facial recognition algorithms to improve identity searches. That’s despite the escalating pushback on the use of facial recognition technology due to its potential to incorrectly identify people and negatively impact the lives of unwitting citizens.

US states are reticent to follow the EU’s facial recognition lead

Across the Atlantic, many cities in the US have taken the bold move to prohibit the use of facial recognition technology. One aspect that could be removed from use in the EU is the police’s ability to utilize facial recognition technology in public places, with its inclusion a significant source of debate in the EU Parliament ahead of the AI Act.

The proposals within Prüm II would enable a nation’s police force to compare photos against databases held in other EU nations to pinpoint potential matches. EDRi believes the recognition system could list between ten and 100 potential face matches, with EU politicians still firming up the final number due to be used.

A spokesperson for the European Commission said that humans will then take the potential face matches and determine if any are a legitimate match. Crucially, this will occur before any action is taken, thereby preventing a rise of mistaken identities and damaged trust and integrity in the criminal process.

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