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The Reality Of Surveillance

Facial recognition and other mass surveillance practices have been brought into focus by the case of the US company “Clearview”. At the same time, the EU is confused with plans for an (alleged) “ban” on facial recognition. And in Germany, according to critics, the legal basis for concrete monitoring projects of the Ministry of the interior is lacking.

A current debate has erupted about facial recognition and mass surveillance-the discussion is based on three aspects: on the one hand, according to media reports, countless faces have been compiled into a database by a private US company with the aim of using it for automatic facial recognition-this “Service” was probably also used by US authorities, a report by the “New York Times” describes the extent: according to this, the company is called Clearview and it is said to have built a database with more than three billion photos of human faces. The Dimension goes far beyond all known systems.

Clearview, EU “ban”, German surveillance

On the other hand, the news agency Reuters reports that the EU is considering “banning facial recognition technology in public areas for up to five years”, according to a “White Paper”, in order to find out “how to prevent abuse”. However, this” ban " is already strongly relativized by the EU itself, which many media reports do not adequately highlight. The (alleged) EU plans to ban facial recognition technology also contradict the controversial German plans and model experiments on mass surveillance and facial recognition, for example at train stations and airports. So says the interior ministry in a security concept:

The expansion and modernisation of video technology to increase security at railway stations is therefore being driven more and more. Intelligent video surveillance and biometric facial recognition will be an important support tool in the future, especially for the Federal Police.

The US-based company Clearview REUTERS writes, citing the American media, the database had been offered to 600 authorities as a Service to the police authorities of municipalities and U.S. States, but also to the FBI and the Department of homeland security DHS. Further reports said that publicly accessible images for the database had been collected on platforms such as Facebook and YouTube or the US payment service Venmo.

The EU ban, which is not one

In view of these serious abuses of mass surveillance in the United States and the plans in Germany, the (alleged) thrust could appear in the EU’s reassuring to prohibit facial recognition technology in public areas for up to five years””. Finally, according to Reuters, an “assessment of the impact of this technology and possible risk management measures could be identified and developed” during this period. But what kind of demand is this for a “ban”, which initially sounds reasonable and appropriate, but on closer examination leaves a very large space for “exceptions” :

Exceptions to the ban could be made for security projects as well as for research and development.

The media do not interpret the EU paper as plans for a ban: “because such a ‘far-reaching measure’ could prevent the development and use of technology, the commission is against a ban, according to the paper.“Thus, both the EU"move” and parts of the current reporting on it seem misleading. In Germany, by the way, one would not have to wait for an EU regulation to restrict facial recognition. “Telepolis” describes the lack of legal basis for the German plans for mass surveillance:

Bei dem nun geplanten Einsatz der umstrittenen Technik ist noch völlig offen, auf welcher Rechtsgrundlage er erfolgen soll. Gemäß der Datenschutz-Grundverordnung (DSGVO) ist es Experten zufolge grundsätzlich verboten, biometrische Daten mit dem Ziel zu erheben, Personen zu identifizieren.

Everyone is scanned

However, the fact that this lack of a legal basis will not slow down the advance of Technology calls for a real ban.

2020 will be the year in which facial recognition reaches the public space – and thus places a surveillance network across the country that is different from that in the digital space: you cannot escape it. Unlike a Smartphone, a face can neither be left at home nor switched off. ( … ) With facial recognition, mass surveillance now jumps into the physical world. Everyone is scanned. ( … ) An automatic adjustment around the clock. Robot eyes see more. But not always right. ( … ) German politics is now focusing on this on a large scale – but technology is forbidden.

There are numerous good reasons for the consistent rejection of facial recognition programs. Thus, countless citizens are criminalized in a blanket and suspiciously independent manner, which the police themselves forbids. In addition, only the Illusion of security arises, the electronic octopuses leave the human out and of course helps to reduce places further. Furthermore, the susceptibility to errors and the inability to master the technique should be mentioned. So the technology already comes to the limits as you read in media, if someone is not white skin color. It can of course also be that the right nature of the police / state was carried into the technology. There is also resistance to mass surveillance, which the US in particular constantly accuses China among others, out of concern for Racial Profiling and constant control, the city of San Francisco has partially banned the use.

Mass surveillance on the unchecked advance

However, the general and global development is going in a different direction. For example, the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace has found in a study that the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in mass surveillance is steadily increasing: at least 75 out of 176 countries studied use AI for surveillance, the clear majority of which also use facial recognition technology. This development is also the result of industry lobbying. The tactics for the introduction of the dangerous technology are however manifold: in part, the new technology is also to be introduced by rather “innocent” uses and people are accustomed to it: in the Japanese city of Osaka, the face recognition as a ticket replacement is currently being tested. A new initiative against face recognition was launched against the currently hardly slowed down spread of mass surveillance.