The European Union’s lead data protection supervisor has called for remote biometric surveillance in public places to be banned outright under incoming AI legislation.

The European Data Protection Supervisor’s (EDPS) intervention follows a proposal, put out by EU lawmakers on Wednesday, for a risk-based approach to regulating applications of artificial intelligence.

The Commission’s legislative proposal includes a partial ban on law enforcement’s use of remote biometric surveillance technologies (such as facial recognition) in public places. But the text includes wide-ranging exceptions, and digital and humans rights groups were quick to warn over loopholes they argue will lead to a drastic erosion of EU citizens’ fundamental rights. And last week a cross-party group of MEPs urged the Commission to screw its courage to the sticking place and outlaw the rights-hostile tech.

The EDPS, whose role includes issuing recommendations and guidance for the Commission, tends to agree. In a press release today Wojciech Wiewiórowski urged a rethink.

“The EDPS regrets to see that our earlier calls for a moratorium on the use of remote biometric identification systems — including facial recognition — in publicly accessible spaces have not been addressed by the Commission,” he wrote.

“The EDPS will continue to advocate for a stricter approach to automated recognition in public spaces of human features — such as of faces but also of gait, fingerprints, DNA, voice, keystrokes and other biometric or behavioural signals — whether these are used in a commercial or administrative context, or for law enforcement purposes.

“A stricter approach is necessary given that remote biometric identification, where AI may contribute to unprecedented developments, presents extremely high risks of deep and non-democratic intrusion into individuals’ private lives.”

Wiewiórowski had some warm words for the legislative proposal too, saying he welcomed the horizontal approach and the broad scope set out by the Commission. He also agreed there are merits to a risk-based approach to regulating applications of AI.

But the EDPB has made it clear that the red lines devised by EU lawmakers are a lot pinker in hue than he’d hoped for — adding a high profile voice to the critique that the Commission hasn’t lived up to its much trumpeted claim to have devised a framework that will ensure ‘trustworthy’ and ‘human-centric’ AI.

The coming debate over the final shape of the regulation is sure to include plenty of discussion over where exactly Europe’s AI red lines should be. A final version of the text isn’t expected to be agreed until next year at the earliest.

“The EDPS will undertake a meticulous and comprehensive analysis of the Commission’s proposal to support the EU co-legislators in strengthening the protection of individuals and society at large. In this context, the EDPS will focus in particular on setting precise boundaries for those tools and systems which may present risks for the fundamental rights to data protection and privacy,” Wiewiórowski added.

 

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