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EU civil rights groups want ban on biometric surveillance ahead of new laws

A pair of surveillance cameras are seen along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront as skyline buildings stand across Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong, China.
A pair of surveillance cameras are seen along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront as skyline buildings stand across Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong, China. (REUTERS)

Surveillance tools such as facial recognition systems have triggered concerns about risks to privacy and fundamental rights and that they could be exploited by repressive regimes to commit human rights violations.

Civil and digital rights groups on Wednesday launched a petition seeking the support of one million Europeans to help pressure the European Union to ban biometric mass surveillance ahead of laws on artificial intelligence (AI) due this year.

Surveillance tools such as facial recognition systems have triggered concerns about risks to privacy and fundamental rights and that they could be exploited by repressive regimes to commit human rights violations.

The EU executive plans to announce a legislative proposal on AI in the first quarter of the year, which is expected to cover high-risk sectors such as healthcare, energy, transport and parts of the public sector.

Also read: Google, others back Facebook lawsuit over surveillance tool

The group, made up of the Civil Liberties Union for Europe, Reclaim Your Face, European Digital Rights, Privacy International and about 26 other organisations, warned of the dangers of biometric data captured via CCTV cameras and facial recognition technology.

The coalition, which aims to gather one million signatures so it can take part directly in the legislative process, said it has already collected evidence of vast and systemic abuses of people's biometric data across Europe.

"This is about everyone's control over their own future," Orsolya Reich, senior advocacy officer at the Civil Liberties Union for Europe, said in a statement.

Read more: Instagram faces lawsuit over illegal harvesting of biometrics

"We can already see this happening with the way AI is used to make decisions about us. Biometric mass surveillance will just feed more data from more people into these systems and make these practices even more widespread and harmful," she said.

The EU's rights watchdog, the Vienna-based EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, last year sounded the alarm on the risks of using AI in predictive policing, medical diagnoses and targeted advertising.

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