Despite the announcements made at the time by European officials, the Artificial Intelligence Act will not ban most of the dangerous practices of Biometric Mass Surveillance (BMS). On the contrary, it will – for the first time in the EU – introduce conditions on how these systems can be used” [1]. The alarm was sounded by the Reclaim Your Face coalition, which has long argued that “BMS practices have no place in a democratic society”.

In 2021, the coalition launched a petition to the European Commission (“European Cittidini Initiative” – ICE) to impose a “ban on biometric mass surveillance practices”; however, the activists’ initiative had only obtained 78,092 signatures out of the required one million.

According to the various NGOs that make up the coalition, “police and authorities already have so much information about each of us at their fingertips; they don’t need to be able to identify and profile us all the time”. Under pressure from law enforcement representatives, Parliament was forced to accept only weak limitations on BMS’s invasive practices.

Privacy rights activists complain that “the Artificial Intelligence Act is destined to be a missed opportunity to protect civil liberties” if, in the spring of 2024, members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and ministers of EU member states vote to accept the no end agreement.

It cannot be ruled out that, after the adoption of the AI Act, it will be mandatory to replace passwords for digital services with the use of biometric data.

Democracy, or its formal appearance, is threatened: “Our rights to participate in a protest, to have access to reproductive health care or even to sit on a bench could be threatened by widespread biometric surveillance”. The AI law will also allow – warns the Reclaim Your Face coalition – “many forms of emotion recognition – such as police use of AI systems to predict who is or is not telling the truth – even though these systems have no credible scientific basis”.

As always, it is “emergencies”, real and artificial, that support the development of increasingly less libertarian processes: “On the eve of this year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in Paris, France fought to preserve or extend the powers of the state to eradicate our anonymity in public spaces”.

Sources and notes:
[1] Reclaim your face, 18 January 2024, “EU AI regulation will not ban mass biometric monitoring”.