As Europe edges closer to a ban on facial recognition technology, a data science CEO has spoken out against the move.

An increasing lobby within the European Parliament is seeking to outlaw AI cameras capable of identifying people by their faces in public spaces, according to POLITICO.

While government security officials are keen to keep the technology in their arsenal, restrictions on companies benefiting from the tech are looking increasingly likely.

“It’s easy to see why facial recognition tech has become such a major fixture in the ethical data debate,” says Natalie Cramp, CEO at data science consultancy Profusion.

“On the one hand, it throws up all sorts of questions as to whether this technology could undermine fundamental privacy rights and how it can be kept in check. However, facial recognition tech also offers lots of benefits – from improving security measures, enhancing digital experiences and safeguarding businesses against theft to even helping find missing people. 

“In this way, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.”

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Last year European data protection watchdog the EDPB called for a prohibition on all facial recognition of individuals in public spaces that contravene fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of movement. 

POLITICO claims that more than 50 European campaign groups have been trying to convince lawmakers of a ban.

Cramp says that introducing an outright blanket ban across Europe could prove “hugely limiting” for Europe.

“It would place the continent far behind others where adoption of this tech has become widespread and proved hugely beneficial,” she explains.

“It is also important to remember that not all facial recognition is the same. For example, blanket facial recognition on CCTV is a part of everyday life whereby each individual will have no semblance of real opt-in or opt-out. 

“But advanced facial recognition tech, conducted at individual level, does enable this level of personal control.”

An example of this might be a consumer opting in to receive personalised retail product recommendations.

Cramp says that her company’s own research has shown two thirds of people are comfortable with their employer monitoring them – as long as they can see the data. 

“Most believed it would help to level the playing field by letting data play a critical objective role,” she explains.

“Clearly then, it’s not always black and white. The key is informed consent and transparency. People will be more comfortable if they have control and can see the benefit.  

“Legislation should focus on giving people the power of choice rather than banning this technology outright.”

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