Biometric mass surveillance flourishes in Germany and the Netherlands

In a new research report, EDRi reveals the shocking extent of biometric mass surveillance practices in Germany, the Netherlands and Poland which are taking over our public spaces like train stations, streets, and shops. The EU and its Member States must act now to set clear legal limits to these practices which create a state of permanent monitoring, profiling and tracking of people.

“Whilst EU laws say that each of us is innocent until proven guilty, the prevalence of biometric mass surveillance practices across Europe flips this on its head. Each of us is treated as suspicious until ‘proven’ innocent, by often discriminatory and persecutory systems and databases that never should have been rolled out in the first place,” warns Ella Jakubowska, Policy Advisor at EDRi

The EDRi network has commissioned an independent report from the Edinburgh International Justice Initiative (EIJI) which brings together stark evidence of abusive facial recognition and other forms of biometric surveillance across the European Union (EU). The research shows that harmful biometric mass surveillance practices have become worryingly normalised by law enforcement, other public authorities and private companies in Germany and the Netherlands, with Poland starting to catch up.

This new evidence comes hot on the heels of the EU’s two top privacy watchdogs, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) and European Data Protection Board (EDPB), confirming that the EU must ban all automated recognition of human features in publicly accessible spaces, as EDRi has long argued.

A chilling set of revelations

The report shows that across Germany, Poland and the Netherlands, biometric systems are increasingly required for accessing public services, travel, shopping and other everyday activities. As a result, people are being given the false choice to either submit their sensitive data, or be excluded from society.

In one example, the report exposes how Dutch police have allegedly used financial incentives and ‘dark patterns’ to encourage people to share private surveillance footage with police for biometric analysis, as a way to evade current national laws.

“The faces of 1 in 12 citizens in the Netherlands are in the massive database of the Dutch police often without any justification. There are multiple cases where, under the guise of experimentation, legal frameworks are pushed aside in order to turn cities into “Living” Laboratories and citizens into guinea pigs. Current regulations are not adequately protecting our rights and freedoms. These toxic and discriminatory biometric mass surveillance practices urgently need to stop!” – explains Lotte Houwing, Policy Advisor at EDRi member Bits of Freedom in the Netherlands

In Germany, the report shows that authorities in the city of Cologne have deployed facial recognition systems outside of LGBTQ+ venues, religious venues, doctor’s surgeries and lawyers’ offices without any legitimate justification. The disproportionate deployment of such technologies against certain marginalised groups amplifies structural oppression in society and limits people’s rights to express freely, move without fear and be who they are.

This research is additional evidence of the need for the EU to outlaw these practices and enforce fundamental rights and the rule of law. From the use of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to conduct biometric mass surveillance, to harmful social scoring and predictive policing, EDRi is advocating for red lines (legal limits) on all uses of AI that are unacceptable in a democratic society. Along with increased scrutiny of those developing and deploying AI, as well as more meaningful engagement with those that are subject to AI tools, such measures are needed to ensure that the EU’s approach to AI truly puts people first. Find the report as well as translations of the summary in German, Dutch, and Polish here.

EU citizens can make their opposition to being constantly spied on and tracked via sensitive data about their bodies and behaviours clear by signing our official initiative, already supported by 56 000 individuals and over 60 civil society organisations, at https://reclaimyourface.eu#sign.