Skip to main content

Time to Ban Facial Recognition from Public Spaces and Borders

Rights Groups Sound the Alarm on Mass Surveillance Technology

Pedestrians walk across a crossroad as a big electronic screen supported by face-recognition system shows the image of a jaywalker at the intersection in Nanjing city, east China's Jiangsu province, July 4, 2019.  © 2019 Imaginechina via AP Photo

We are at a fork in the road regarding states’ approaches to facial recognition surveillance. On the one hand, governments in places like Israel and the United Kingdom are progressing plans to roll out widespread use of this powerful biometric technology. On the other hand, the latest draft of the European Union’s AI Act reveals an increased commitment to banning its use in public spaces.

This week, Human Rights Watch joined 180 rights groups and other experts calling on governments and companies to stop using facial recognition surveillance technology in public spaces and in migration and asylum contexts, as it is simply too dangerous and powerful to be used without negative consequences for human rights.

Facial recognition surveillance technology – the kind that scans, identifies, and profiles people en masse – is not compatible with international human rights law, as it amounts to mass surveillance. As well as undermining privacy rights, the technology threatens our rights to equality and nondiscrimination, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly.

In 2020, some of the big tech companies pledged a moratorium on selling facial recognition surveillance tech, in response to rights concerns, but self-regulation simply doesn’t work and at least one of those companies may now be rolling back on that commitment.

Meanwhile, facial recognition surveillance tech is increasingly used by governments to surveil protests, target people based on their ethnicity, and curb political dissent. As with much technology, it exacerbates existing structural inequities and hits people with marginalized and vulnerable identities hardest.

There is no safe use-case for this technology on our streets or at our borders. We urgently need governments to step up and ban facial recognition surveillance in these spaces, and companies to stop creating and using this powerful tech for surveillance purposes.

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country