The European Union is accused of seeking to create a network of national police facial recognition databases that could lead to ‘politically motivated surveillance’.
Leaked internal documents obtained by The Intercept allegedly indicate that police forces from 10 EU member-states led by Austria had called for laws introducing and interconnecting facial recognition databases in every member-state.
The report was produced as part of conversations on expanding the mandate of the Prüm Convention, which allows for DNA-sharing between countries.
It calls for Europol to play a role in exchanging facial recognition and other biometric data with non-EU member states, giving concern to the notion that the network would be connected to similar databases in the United States.
Circulated amongst EU and national officials in November 2019, preparatory work on new legislation recommended by the paper is reportedly ongoing.
Leaked documents obtained by The Intercept allegedly indicate that police forces from 10 EU member-states led by Austria had called for laws introducing and interconnecting facial recognition databases in every member-state (pictured, Europol HQ, The Hague)
The advantages of interlinked facial recognition databases to the police, which hope to link these pools of data quickly, include identifying unknown suspects.
But human-rights advocates have raised fears about possible breaches to privacy, due process, and – if shared with the US – First Amendment expressions.
According to Edin Omanovic, advocacy director for Privacy International, the risk of such data being used for illegal ‘politically motivated surveillance’ is serious.
He told The Intercept: ‘This is concerning on a national level and on a European level, especially as some EU countries veer towards more authoritarian governments.’
Almost 700,000 euros has been invested in studies by consultancy firm Deloitte to possible changes to Prüm, according to information provided to the European Parliament by the European Commission last November.
The report calls for Europol to play a role in exchanging facial recognition and other biometric data with non-EU member states (pictured, Catherine De Bolle, Europol Director)
Led by Austrian police (pictured) the report was produced amid conversations on expanding the mandate of the Prüm Convention, which allows for DNA-sharing between countries
The European Commission has separately also paid 500,000 euros to a consortium of Estonian-led public agencies to ‘map the current situation of facial recognition in criminal investigations in all EU Member States,’ with the aim of moving ‘towards the possible exchange of facial data’, The Intercept also reported.
EU authorities and the FBI did not respond to The Intercept’s requests for comment.
France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Austria signed the Prüm Convention in May 2005. It was adopted to enabled the signatories to exchange DNA, fingerprints, and vehicle registration data to combat terrorism.
Core elements of the Convention were picked up by the European Council in 2008, including further co-operation on tackling cross-border crime.
As far back as 2004, the US Embassy in Brussels (pictured) called for a relationship with the EU that allowed for ‘expansive exchanges’ and sharing ‘personal data’
Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Sweden have all signaled their desire to accede to the Convention, which has been described by its detractors as a ‘regime’.
A paper commissioned by the EU said critics of the Prüm system disliked its lack of ‘democratic and judicial control’ and ‘transparency and equality’.
Critics of the system continue to question its legality and legitimacy.
As far back as 2004, the US Embassy in Brussels called for a relationship with the EU that allowed for ‘expansive exchanges’ and sharing ‘personal data’.
In October 2017, Austria started checking fingerprints against the FBI’s criminal finger databases that led to the cross-checking of 12,000 individuals’ prints.
This vast data-sharing led to just 150 matches.