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European Commission suggests adding facial recognition to EU-wide police database

The European Commission has put forward plans for EU police to work together more efficiently in order to fight criminal networks that are operating on an increasingly transnational level. Increased facial recognition data-sharing is included in the proposal.

The proposal is based on the premise that the pandemic has exposed various loopholes in cross-border police cooperation, which Brussels aims to patch by suggesting the addition of facial images and shared law enforcement records to an EU-wide police biometrics database.

According to Europol’s 2021 EU Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment, roughly 65 percent of criminal networks active in the EU are composed of members of multiple nationalities, and 80 percent of those are involved in cross-border crimes.

The new proposal and inclusion of facial recognition data targets these networks and crimes, and particularly smugglers of drugs, and people across the EU.

Other changes would include granting police the ability to continue their duties over state borders, such as to make an arrest in a cross-border chase, EUobserver reports.

Information exchange will be key to the new system, the Commission explained, with the establishment of a central ‘router’ coordinating the multiple, national ones. Aware of the potential privacy implication of such a proposal, the European Commission clarified the central router will simply act as a message broker, with member states retaining control and ownership over their data.

Despite the reassurance, however, European Digital Rights (EDRi) called the proposal ‘worrying,’ explaining that the Commission has thus far failed to provide sufficient evidence of the necessity and proportionality of the existing Prüm Decisions.

For context, the original Prüm framework regulates the exchange of DNA, fingerprint biometric, and vehicle registration data between EU police authorities.

According to EDRi, the additional automation suggested by the proposal would explicitly remove procedural and judicial safeguards that exist to make sure that sensitive data are only shared with police in other countries when there is a legitimate reason to do so.

The proposal would also enhance the role of Europol, including handling sensitive biometric data of suspects from outside the EU in its scope without clear protections. 

It may also amplify the discriminatory impacts that law enforcement databases already have on racialized and marginalized communities, EDRi wrote.

Finally, the non-profit said that Prüm II may incentivize the Member States that have thus far chosen not to conduct mass facial recognition against their communities to now start deploying surveillance infrastructure and databases.

Article: European Commission suggests adding facial recognition to EU-wide police database

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