This summary article is based on the WIRED article,'Europe Is Building a Huge International Facial Recognition System'
For the last 15 years, police agencies across Europe have been able to share fingerprints, DNA data, and car owner information in the hunt for criminals. Now, European legislators are preparing to integrate millions of images of people’s faces into the system, allowing for the deployment of facial recognition on a massive scale. If the French authorities think that the individual they are looking for is in Spain, they might request that the fingerprints be checked against their database by the Spanish authorities.
The extension of face recognition across Europe is part of a larger strategy to “modernize” enforcement on the continent, and it is covered under the Prüm II data-sharing agreements. The specifics were initially revealed in December, but as the full impact of the measures has become clear, European data regulators have become increasingly vocal in recent weeks.
The Prüm was initially signed in 2005 by seven European countries—Belgium, Germany, Spain, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Austria—and lets governments share data against transnational crime. Since its inception, the Prum has been used in various ways by 27 European nations.
Prüm II intends to vastly increase the amount of data that may be transmitted, possibly including photographs and driver’s license information. According to the European Commission’s recommendations, police would have more “automatic” access to shared data. According to lawmakers, this implies that police across Europe will be able to work more closely together, and Europol, the European law enforcement organization, would have a “stronger role.”
One of the most significant proposed enhancements to Prüm II is the ability to include photos of faces and run facial recognition algorithms against them. Facial recognition technology has suffered severe failures as police departments increasingly employ it, resulting in misidentifications and lives being thrown off track. A prohibition on using this technology by police agencies has been proposed in dozens of US communities. As part of its AI Act, the European Union is contemplating a prohibition on police use of face recognition in public spaces.
Live face recognition systems are routinely used in public places and have gotten the most flak. They are not the same as this technology. Prüm II, on the other hand, enables the application of retrospective face recognition. This implies that police officers may compare photographs from CCTV cameras, social media, or the victim’s phone to mug shots stored in the police database.
European plans would allow a country to compare a photo to databases from other nations to see if there are any similarities, thereby creating one of the world’s most extensive face recognition systems.
Prüm II records from April 2021, when the ideas were initially considered, suggest that countries have a considerable quantity of facial pictures. According to documents, Hungary has 30 million photos, Italy has 17 million, France has 6 million, and Germany has 5.5 million. Suspects, persons convicted of crimes, asylum seekers, and “unidentified dead” are among those depicted in these photographs, originating from various sources in each nation.
Face recognition AI technology will aid in the detection of criminals using CCTV cameras, potentially lowering crime rates. However, the database must be highly secure. There is a risk of data leakage due to hacking, which could pose a severe problem because facial records can be used illegally as biometric authentication in some places.