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Europe Data Protection Digest | Notes from the IAPP Europe Managing Director, 1 Nov. 2019 Related reading: Notes from the IAPP Europe Managing Director, 22 Nov. 2019

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Greetings from Brussels!

Facial recognition has been receiving a lot of focus of late from actors across multiple jurisdictions. Sweden’s data protection authority is the latest EU public entity to pronounce itself on the subject in approving its use by the Swedish police to help identify criminal suspects. The request from the police force cited "efficiency" as the primary need — now that does sound Swedish — saying the use of the technology would be far more effective at identifying perpetrators than through traditional methods. It may also prove to be highly accurate in time.

However, that’s not to say the decision may be seen as contentious in some quarters. The application of facial biometric screening will allow the police to do comparative analysis of images obtained from closed-circuit TV footage to an existing database of more than 40,000 pictures of individuals. The Swedish DPA said that under the country’s Crime Data Act, it is "necessary" for a competent authority to be able to carry out the processing of personal data to perform its task effectively. It also said that such information can be processed at Sweden’s National Forensic Centre and that the Crime Data Act had enough provisions to protect the processing of personal data. The DPA published a statement 24 Oct. In terms of how long the acquired data can be stored for, the DPA did not set any particular time limit with its ruling. It did, however, state that the police services should determine this before implementing any facial ID technology solutions. The DPA holds that it is important from an integrity perspective that the police services are transparent and clear on the parameters of an eventual program. They further stated that they would be monitoring the initiative.

In a similar vein and as recently as September, the Cardiff high court in the U.K. (Wales) ruled in favor of the South Wales Police that it was lawful to use facial-recognition technology to search for people in crowds, as it did not "breach human rights, or contravene the UK Data Protection Act of 2018," notably, the latter incorporates the GDPR.

Go further afield to India, and there, the National Crime Records Bureau has invited tenders to implement a centralized Automated Facial Recognition System. Moreover, the intention is to integrate the system with other national interoperable systems and networks used in the areas of crime, justice, immigration and visas — pretty comprehensive. China just announced it will install a new security check system on the Beijing subway system. Those systems will also make use of facial-recognition technology to enhance "passenger security and improve transport efficiency," a senior official said. Notably, this will be combined with other detection systems designed with complementary AI-based recognition software.

And lastly, the French interior ministry unveiled this summer a smartphone app designed to allow people with a biometric passport or an e-residence permit to identify themselves online through facial-recognition technology — if this were to be adopted, France would seek to offer public services through the technology becoming the first country in Europe to do so. Aside from more ethical concerns, there is a question over technology security, as well: The French government, while enthusiastic, announced this month it would be assessing the technology before proceeding.

Wherever we find ourselves, one thing is for sure: Facial-recognition technology and its application is being explored and endorsed by both private and public sector actors with equal fervor, the world over.

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