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Battle for privacy intensifies as EU considers facial recognition ban

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In response to the increasing effectiveness of facial recognition technology, the European Union is considering a five-year ban to prevent its use in public areas like train stations, shopping centers, and town squares.

Plans for the ban were revealed in a draft of a European Commission whitepaper obtained by the news website Euractiv. The paper suggests that authorities are considering a five-year moratorium on deployment until "a sound methodology for assessing the impacts of this technology and possible risk management measures" can be "identified and developed."

Facial recognition is often associated with China's surveillance state, where it is employed extensively in combination with other tools like mobile apps—and potentially the release of a digital yuan—to keep close watch over Chinese citizens. In more sinister applications like in the Xinjiang region, the tech is deployed to identify Uighurs in what some have called 'automated racism'.

But the technology has also been used in Europe, including in the quaint French Riviera town of Nice, where a controversial experiment last February scanned the faces of thousands of carnival-goers. In the UK, which is soon to leave Brussels’ regulatory orbit, facial recognition hit headlines in September after the King's Cross estate was found to be using the technology without telling the public.

Across the pond, the tech has also come under scrutiny after the New York Times revealed that U.S. law enforcement agencies have access to an app that effectively ends anonymity by matching photos of faces taken in real-time against a giant database scraped from social media. A few cities, including San Francisco, have already banned facial recognition, and several more state governments are considering similar legislation. At a federal level, the U.S. govt. has released a set of regulatory artificial intelligence (AI) principles in an attempt to limit its reach.

As the tech develops and regulators continue to step in, the battle that has long been fought behind-the-scenes by privacy advocates and technologists is likely to continue raging in full view.



Kieran Smith, Khareem Sudlow