The EU police authorities intend to set up a network of national face-recognition databases to cover each Member State, according to internal documents published the Intercept.
The report from the national police authorities of the 10 EU Member States, led by Austria, calls for new EU legislation to allow the creation of an interconnected database "as soon as possible". The document was circulated among EU officials last November. Intercept reports that preparatory work for the legislation is already under way.
The report was prepared in the context of discussions on adding face images to its competence Prüm Convention, which currently allows Member States to exchange DNA data, fingerprints and vehicle registration data.
It calls on Europol, the EU law enforcement agency, to play an important role in exchanging biometric data with non-EU countries, raising concerns that the system could also be linked to US identity databases.
The United States has been pushing for greater access to EU data since 2004, when the US Embassy in Brussels called for "a relationship that allows us to join forces with EU members in the fight against crime and terrorism through extensive exchanges of all forms of data, including personal data. "
The US already requires exchange countries to adopt data agreements that allow their services to have full access to fingerprint and DNA databases.
Edin Omanovic, team manager Privacy International, told The Intercept that there is a high risk that the system could be used for illegal "politically motivated surveillance".
EU Commissioners have publicly spoken out against the use of face recognition, but recent reports suggest the EU is taking a different approach under the table.
The EU seems to be abandoning its plan to impose a moratorium on the use of face recognition and made almost no mention of the technology in a white paper published on AI last week.
The report published by Intercept shows that the EU has already paid € 700.000 to consulting firm Deloitte to investigate possible changes to the Prüm system. An additional € 500.000 has been paid to a consortium of EU public bodies to map out existing uses of face recognition in criminal investigations to move "towards a possible exchange of personal data", according to an Intercept publication.
A separate EU internal report on the exchange of driving license data under Prüm states that "a network of interconnected national registers can be seen as a virtual European register".
The police report announcing the possibility of using interconnected face-recognition databases to identify unknown suspects may sound tempting to the authorities, but the dangers to privacy with such a system are far-reaching, especially considering that one could to be used in other ways.