Members of European Parliament and civil society groups call on Commission to ban biometric mass surveillance

Following the leak of the European Commission’s draft legislation on artificial intelligence (AI), two groups of European Parliament members (MEPs) have sent letters to the Commission calling for a ban on biometric mass surveillance. The first letter, sent on 15 April and signed by 40 MEPs, urges the Commission to propose a clear ban on biometric mass surveillance in public spaces. It also criticises the approach envisioned in the draft legislation to exempt public authorities from the prohibition of using AI systems for indiscriminate surveillance, if such practices are carried out in order to safeguard public security. The MEPs note that ‘public security is precisely what mass surveillance is being justified with, it is where it is practically relevant, and it is where the courts have consistently annulled legislation on indiscriminate bulk processing of personal data’, and therefore call for the removal of this exception. The second letter, sent on 16 April by 35 MEPs, argues that the leaked draft legislation ‘fall[s] short of what is necessary to protect fundamental rights, in particular to prohibit uses of AI that will be especially harmful to Europe’s minority communities who have historically faced marginalisation and oppression, and which can be exacerbated by certain applications of AI’. It also argues in favour of a prohibition – without exception – of practices involving remote biometric identification in public accessible spaces, as these pose a threat to people’s rights and freedoms. MEPs also call for a ban or moratorium in the use of automated technologies in border and migration control ‘until they are independently assessed to determine compliance with international human rights standards’. Civil society groups have also reacted to the leaked draft legislation, calling on the Commission to ensure that ‘prohibitions [are] real prohibitions’ and that broad exceptions for public authorities are eliminated.