German Data Watchdog Raises Concerns Over Constitutionality of Live Facial Recognition System

German Data Watchdog Raises Concerns Over Constitutionality of Live Facial Recognition System
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A real-time facial recognition system employed by German police for tracking criminals may be unconstitutional, as it was reportedly deployed without the knowledge of the local data protection agency.

The police in Saxony, Germany, have been utilizing a surveillance system known as the Personal Identification System (PerIS), developed by Opto Precision. Initially introduced as a pilot project in 2019 to combat serious cross-border crime, details of the system emerged in March following a parliamentary inquiry. Its usage in Berlin also drew criticism from legal experts and lawmakers.

In response to complaints, Saxony’s data protection office revealed that the police did not submit a data protection impact assessment for PerIS. The agency is now considering an investigation in collaboration with the Saxon Ministry of the Interior.

According to a machine translation from German, the data protection office stated, “There should be no doubt that real-time biometric processing and live comparison of facial images in public spaces are against the Constitution.”

This statement was made in response to a complaint filed by Saxony’s Pirate Party, which warned about the error-prone nature of biometric systems and their disproportionate interference with civil liberties. The legal act permitting biometric video surveillance to prevent cross-border crime has expired, the party added.

Anne Herpertz of The Pirate Party expressed concern, saying, “Saxony is a nucleus for dangerous surveillance mechanisms,” highlighting the expired legal regulations for biometric video surveillance.

A similar complaint was filed with Berlin’s data protection office regarding the system’s use in the city. Authorities in Berlin clarified that the system was utilized on an “administrative assistance basis,” not for comprehensive surveillance.

The system records passing vehicles’ license plates and facial images of drivers and passengers, comparing them with images of suspects from specific investigations. The German Ministry of the Interior stressed that automatic biometric data collection is exceptional and subject to legal requirements.

The controversy underscores ongoing debates over privacy and security measures in public spaces, highlighting the delicate balance between law enforcement needs and individual rights.

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