Facial recognition technology has arrived in Prague, leading to controversy over the potential for the abuse of citizens’ privacy and data.
The debate over the technology follows the Regional Police Directorate asking the Prague municipality to activate its automatic facial recognition system at six locations in Prague.
“This is a very sensitive matter,” said Petr Hlubuček, the head of the Prague City Council security commission, who confirmed the police had made the request. He added that the city has already requested an opinion regarding the technology from the Office for Personal Data Protection.
The office had already previously refused to allow facial recognition technology to identify football hooligans in stadiums. According to officials, there was not a strong enough reason to justify the collection of biometric personal data of football match visitors.
The Pinkerton detective agency, which helped implement the system, says the technology could contribute to increasing the effectiveness of searching for wanted or lost people.
One of the countries with the broadest use of CCTV and facial recognition in Europe is the United Kingdom. According to a recent independent study, the facial recognition system tested in London misidentified suspects in 81 percent of cases. However, London police authorities say that the technology is wrong only in one in a thousand cases.
The US city of San Francisco chose the opposite approach and banned the use of face recognition technology altogether over fears the technology could be abused.
However, the improving security situation in the Czech Republic might be the deciding factor in the discussion on whether to allow this technology or not.
According to attorney Jan Vobořil, given the exceptionally strong state of security and low crime in the Czech Republic, it is unlikely the police will receive expanded powers to use facial recognition. However, Vobořil pointed out the main law guiding the technology, the Police Act, does not clearly define what forms of police surveillance are permitted in public spaces.
Currently, more extensive monitoring of public spaces is usually only justified with the special permission of the president of police forces.