Europe Is Building a Huge International Facial Recognition System


Lawmakers advance proposals to let police forces across the EU link their photo databases—which include millions of pictures of people’s faces.

For the past 15 years, police forces searching for criminals in Europe have been able to share fingerprints, DNA data, and details of vehicle owners with each other. If officials in France suspect someone they are looking for is in Spain, they can ask Spanish authorities to check fingerprints against their database. Now European lawmakers are set to include millions of photos of people’s faces in this system—and allow facial recognition to be used on an unprecedented scale.

The expansion of facial recognition across Europe is included in wider plans to “modernize” policing across the continent, and it comes under the Prüm II data-sharing proposals. The details were first announced in December, but criticism from European data regulators has gotten louder in recent weeks, as the full impact of the plans have been understood.

“What you are creating is the most extensive biometric surveillance infrastructure that I think we will ever have seen in the world,” says Ella Jakubowska, a policy adviser at the civil rights NGO European Digital Rights (EDRi). Documents obtained by EDRi under freedom of information laws and shared with WIRED reveal how nations pushed for facial recognition to be included in the international policing agreement.

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