'Protect my face': Facial recognition petition demands ban in Brussels public spaces

'Protect my face': Facial recognition petition demands ban in Brussels public spaces
Inflation in Belgium rose from 3.18% in March to 3.37% in April, reveals data from the Belgian statistics office Statbel. Credit: Belga/ Nicolas Maeterlinck

A "Protect my face" petition to demand a ban on the use of facial recognition technology in public spaces in Brussels is being launched at the Brussels Parliament by a coalition of organisations, including the Human Rights League.

The organisations fear that the legalisation and use of this facial recognition technology will hinder fundamental rights and freedoms, especially those of minorities.

"Today, there is no law in Belgium regulating the use of facial recognition technologies by the government. However, facial recognition has already been used several times by the Belgian police," the petition states.

In 2017 and 2019, facial recognition was already tested by the federal police at Brussels Airport Zaventem, and in 2019 and 2020, the Belgian federal police conducted about 70 house searches with the controversial Clearview AI software. The Supervisory Body for Police Information demands that these experiments be stopped, because there was no legal basis for them.

(No) respect for human rights

Specifically, the petition denounces facial recognition when used for identification purposes, such as when a person can be identified in a crowd by their biometric characteristics stored in a database (measurement of the distance between the eyes, the bridge of the nose, for example).

A survey conducted by KULeuven in 2021 among the police zones in Flanders and the Brussels-Capital Region showed that of the 86 zones that responded, at least five police zones had access to facial recognition tech. One zone even indicated that its staff made use of it 'often' to 'very often.'

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In Brussels, the BriefCam software is used, which can detect, track and extract any moving object. The Israeli company that sells the software also offers facial recognition technology. Additionally, Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden has already declared her willingness to use it "provided there are sufficient guarantees as to respect for human rights."

A democratic debate on this technology and its use is urgently needed, the organisations stressed.

While the use of facial recognition is illegal in Belgium, the police and governments still (want to) use it, the organisations said, adding that it would hinder various rights and freedoms, including the right to privacy, the right to anonymity, the freedom of movement, association, assembly and demonstration, and the right not to be discriminated against.

You can sign the petition here.

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