The European Commission is considering a temporary ban on facial recognition technology over fears of its impact on citizens’ privacy, according to leaked documents. But, over the longer term, the EU would prefer to apply the strict provisions of its General Data Protection Regulation to the technology rather than ban it outright. 

The EU’s proposed facial recognition ban would last for a defined period — three to five years is given as an example — and apply to its use by public and private actors in public spaces.

According to a draft artificial intelligence whitepaper released by EU media platform EurActiv, the EU Commission should consider a time-limited ban on facial recognition to develop a sound methodology for assessing its impact, risk management options, and ways to prevent abuse of the technology.

Such a ban would likely include exceptions, according to the document dated December 12th, including for security and research purposes. The Commission also notes the potential downsides of the “far reaching measure” including how it may hinder uptake and development of the technology.

Because of that risk, the Commission is currently of the view that full implementation of provisions within General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to the regulation of facial recognition technology “would be preferable”. 

An application of GDPR to facial recognition technologies would mean subjects would have a right to receive information about the collection of data on them by facial recognition technologies and any automated decisioning it is used for. GDPR also provides individuals a right not to be subject to automated decisioning — a potential roadblock for many facial recognition use cases.

In Australia, facial recognition technologies operate largely without specific regulation. The key piece of federal legislation that would have established some framework was rejected by a bipartisan security commission last year because it lacked appropriate privacy safeguards and the risks were disproportionate to the benefits.

In December, the Australian Human Rights Commission also called for a moratorium on facial recognition technologies when they involve a certain level of risk because of potential negative impacts on individuals and the technologies’ error rate.

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