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EU plans to link member states' facial recognition databases

Human rights advocates are, however, concerned about possible privacy breaches

EU plans to link member states' facial recognition databases

The European Union (EU) is planning to create a massive network of national police facial recognition databases, which could one day be linked to a US database.

The Intercept claims to have obtained an internal EU document from an unnamed European official, which indicates that the police forces of 10 EU member states are pushing for the bloc to introduce legislation asking all member states to create national facial recognition databases. All of those databases would eventually be linked with each other.

The initiative, led by Austria, is part of conversations on expanding the directives of the Prüm Convention, an initiative for member countries to share fingerprints, DNA and vehicle registration data with each other to fight crime and terrorism.

Signatories of the Convention include France, Germany, Spain, Luxembourg, Belgium, Austria, and the Netherlands. It was first signed in 2005, and in 2008 the European Council adopted its core elements, including further collaboration on stopping cross-border crime.

The internal EU report seen by The Intercept, which calls for integrated facial recognition databases, was initially circulated among European officials in November last year.

Experts believe the EU's interconnected databases could potentially be linked to the US, which already has a Prüm-like system in place with countries that are part of the Visa Waiver Programme, including most members of the EU.

According to The Intercept, the European Commission has already commenced work on a new facial recognition network. It has allegedly allocated €500,000 to a consortium of public agencies, which would review the current status of facial recognition use in criminal investigations in EU member-states and give recommendations on how the possible exchange of facial data can take place.

Consulting firm Deloitte was paid €700,000 last year to prepare a report on Prüm Convention upgrades, with particular emphasis on facial recognition.

Human rights advocates, however, have expressed concerns about possible privacy breaches, warning that such data could be used for "politically motivated surveillance".

"This is concerning on a national level and on a European level, especially as some EU countries veer towards more authoritarian governments," Edin Omanovic, advocacy director for Privacy International, told The Intercept.

The rollout of facial recognition technology in Europe countries has not been very smooth. In the UK, its use has been limited to small trials or events like football matches and concerts. However, such deployments were widely criticised by privacy campaigners.

Data from one trial also suggested that as many as 81 per cent of "matches" produced by the facial recognition cameras were incorrect.

Despite that, London Met Police announced last month that live facial recognition would be permanently integrated into everyday policing. It also deployed some LFR cameras in Stratford earlier this month.

In Scotland, a parliamentary committee cited human rights and data protection concerns to conclude this month that there was no "justifiable basis" for Police to use live facial recognition technology.

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