European Parliament Votes to Ban Facial Recognition Tools

European Parliament with EU Flag and Members Sitting on a Panel

Lawmakers in Europe took a big step towards banning the use of facial recognition for criminal matters after the European Parliament passed a resolution to ban the use of artificial intelligence by the police and in judicial matters.

Apart from facial recognition, the resolution calls for a ban on automated analysis and the recognition of other human features. These include gait, DNA, fingerprints, voice, and “other biometric and behavioral signals.”

The European Parliament, while recognizing its many benefits, said the AI tools in question carry substantial risks. These include concerns about opaque decision-making, potential for discrimination, and privacy violations. Furthermore, it could potentially lead to “challenges to the protection of personal data, human dignity, and the freedom of expression and information.”

Resolution Aims to Protect Fundamental Rights

The European Parliament said the potential for abuse or misuse of artificial intelligence tools is greatly aggravated in criminal matters. The lawmakers worry that these AI tools may affect the presumption of innocence, the fundamental rights to liberty and security of the individual, and the right to an effective remedy and fair trial.

The Parliament also called for a ban on the use of private facial recognition databases by law enforcement. It pointed to Clearview AI as an example, adding that the database contains more than three billion images. The Parliament stated that these pictures were collected “illegally from social networks and other parts of the internet.”

It added that the European Data Protection Board had previously said that the use of such a database by law enforcement would likely be in violation of the General Data Protection Regulation.

European Parliament’s Decision is Non-binding

The resolution passed with 36 votes in favor, 24 against, and 4 abstentions. Petar Vitanov, the author of the resolution, said, “This is a huge win for all European citizens.”

It is important to note that the resolution is non-binding, and therefore cannot be enforced by law. However, it gives a strong sense of how the Parliament might vote on the European Union’s AI Act.

The European Commission has proposed a bill that seeks to ban the use of remote biometric identification in public places.

List of AI Tools Used in Criminal Matters

In its explanatory statement to the resolution, the European Parliament gave detailed examples of the use of AI in criminal matters, both by the police and the judicial system.

The Parliament said that AI helps authorities fight certain types of crimes more efficiently. These include the fields of financial crimes, certain types of cybercrimes, money laundering, and terrorist financing. It also listed some of the applications that are helpful for the same purposes:

  • facial recognition technologies,
  • automated number plate recognition,
  • speaker identification,
  • speech identification,
  • lip reading technologies,
  • gunshot detection algorithms or aural surveillance,
  • autonomous research and analysis of identified databases,
  • forecasting, i.e. predictive policing and crime hotspot analytics,
  • behavior detection tools,
  • autonomous tools to check for financial fraud and terrorist financing,
  • social media monitoring,
  • IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) catchers,
  • automated surveillance systems incorporating different detection capabilities,
  • tools helpful in judicial decisions, such as tools for calculating probabilities for reoffending, determining probation, or sentencing.
Technology policy researcher
Prateek is a technology policy researcher with a background in law. His areas of interest include data protection, privacy, digital currencies, and digital literacy. Outside of his research interests, Prateek is an avid reader and is engaged in projects on sustainable farming practices in India.