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Civil society calls for a ban on biometric mass surveillance in Europe

13 May 2020
by eub2 -- last modified 13 May 2020

European Digital Rights (EDRi) releases its paper "Ban Biometric Mass Surveillance: A set of fundamental rights demands for the EU Commission and EU Member States".


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44 digital rights organisations have one single urgent request: Ban biometric mass surveillance in Europe! In order for the European Union (EU) and its Member States to ensure that this unlawful practice is banned:

  • Member states must halt and dismantle all current uses of and plans for biometric mass surveillance
  • Member states must disclose all plans (in place and for the future) to use biometric technologies which may amount to mass surveillance
  • Member states must stop any legislation to legalise biometric mass surveillance and, instead, make sure that national legislation specifically prohibits this practice
  • EU bodies must cease all funding for schemes to develop, test or deploy biometric mass surveillance or biometric predictions
  • The European Commission must review all biometrics laws that could contribute or amount to mass surveillance
  • The European Commission must ensure through legislative and non-legislative measures that the use of biometrics for mass surveillance in public spaces is comprehensively, immediately and indefinitely banned in law and in practice.

        "Accepting grossly intrusive biometric mass surveillance in our public spaces means accepting that our bodies and faces can and will be recorded as if we were in a perpetual police lineup. If companies or governments can deploy such technology,  we risk increased population control and manipulation without our knowledge, as well as a deepening of power imbalances and lack of accountability. Mass surveillance is unlawful under EU law and these practices must be banned."

    Diego Naranjo, Head of Policy at EDRi

As of May 2020, at least 15 European countries are experimenting with biometric technologies such as facial recognition, for purposes which amount to mass surveillance in public spaces. These systems violate people's privacy, fundamental freedoms and dignity, have a discriminatory impact, a chilling effect on our freedoms of expression and assembly, and put limits on our ability to participate in public, social and democratic activities.

If we fail to act now, the legitimisation and normalisation of privacy-invading surveillance infrastructures developed during the COVID-19 state of emergency can contribute to societies filled with suspicion, abuse and mistrust.

        "The COVID-19 pandemic provides a stark example of what it feels like to live with limited freedoms – to move, to gather, to speak, to protest. Biometric mass surveillance in public spaces would make such emergency states of suspicion a permanent feature of public life. What sort of society is one in which we have no control over our own bodies?"

    Ella Jakubowska, Policy and Campaigns Officer at EDRi

Now, more than ever, it is crucial to address the creeping use of biometric mass surveillance measures.  Once we allow for biometric mass surveillance, there is no way to return – even once we realise that this was a mistake. We are on the edge of a permanent state of suspicion.

European Digital Rights (EDRi) is a not-for-profit association of 44 digital civil rights organisations. Our objectives are to promote, protect and uphold civil rights in the field of information and communication technology.

European Digital Rights (EDRi)
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