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EU suggests five-year ban on facial-recognition tech

Image credit: Maksim Shmeljov - Dreamstime

The European Union is considering banning facial recognition in public areas for up to five years, in an effort to ensure the technology is developed and used in an ethical way, according to new proposals.

Set out in an 18-page white paper, the plan by the EU’s executive comes amid a global debate about the systems driven by artificial intelligence (AI) and widely used by law enforcement agencies.

According to the EU Commission, new tough rules may have to be introduced to bolster existing regulations protecting Europeans’ privacy and data rights.

“Building on these existing provisions, the future regulatory framework could go further and include a time-limited ban on the use of facial-recognition technology in public spaces,” the EU document said.

During the ban, which would last for between three to five years, “a sound methodology for assessing the impacts of this technology and possible risk management measures could be identified and developed”.

Furthermore, the paper said that exceptions to the ban could be made for security projects as well as research and development (R&D).

The document also suggested imposing obligations on both developers and users of AI, and that EU countries should appoint authorities to monitor the new rules.

The paper is part of the EU’s broader effort to catch up with the US and China on advancements in AI, but in a way that promotes European values such as user privacy.

While some critics have argued that stringent data-protection laws such as the EU’s could hinder innovation surrounding AI, EU officials said, “harmonising rules across the region will boost development”.

A spokesman for the Brussels-based Commission declined to comment on leaks, but said: “To maximise the benefits and address the challenges of artificial intelligence, Europe has to act as one and will define its own way, a human way.”

“Trust and security of EU citizens will, therefore, be at the centre of the EU‘s strategy,” the spokesman added.

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has pledged her team will present a new legislative approach on AI within the first 100 days, which started December last year, handing the task to the EU’s digital and anti-trust chief, Margrethe Vestager, to coordinate.

The Commission will seek feedback on its white paper before making a final decision, officials said, while Vestager is expected to present her proposals next month.

Earlier this month, the US government announced regulatory guidelines on AI technology aimed at limiting authorities’ overreach, urging Europe to avoid aggressive approaches.

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