New EU plans could land your face on a massive international database

The European Union plans to expand a database used to share DNA, fingerprints and other data linked to criminals by adding facial recognition data to the mix.

According to a report (opens in a new tab) from Wiredwho spoke to various privacy advocates about the upcoming changes, various EU member countries have called for the addition of facial recognition data to help catch criminals.

The plans are part of a wider push to “modernize” policing in the 27-member bloc and are covered by the Prüm II data-sharing proposals. The EU originally announced the return in December.

“What you are creating is the most extensive biometric surveillance infrastructure I think we have ever seen in the world,” said Ella Jakubowska, who works for European Digital Rights (EDRi).

It’s a worrying development for anyone who rejects nonconsensual facial recognition systems, which most privacy advocates are. The potential for abuse of such a widespread and endemic system is enormous.

Despite the EU’s generally pro-privacy stance and efforts to regulate tech giants and AI, Prüm II allows the use of retrospective facial recognition, based on CCTV footage, social media and ID photos.

A frightening future

The EU proposals mean that any police force within the EU could match a photo with those in the database, a hugely powerful system for finding people at will. A document obtained by EDRi shows that there could be between 10 and 100 face matches for a given search.

The documents, which are from April 2021, provide insight into the sheer volume of imagery available. Hungary, for example, has a database of 30 million photos; Italy has 17 million, France 6 million and Germany 5.5 million.

See also  Three new colorful PS5 covers arrive next month

Modern surveillance is so pervasive and powerful that the vectors of abuse available to this system are enormous. While the EU says that “[o]Only the facial images of suspects or convicted criminals can be exchanged”, it is easy to see how this could be abused.

“Suspects”, for example, is a term that could be interpreted very broadly, and there is little recourse for monitoring once an abuse has occurred.

Leave a Comment