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Surveillance - yes, no, maybe?

 Cameras in public spaces that automatically recognize who is walking through the picture: a nightmare scenario for many, a relief for criminal investigators. What does the federal government want?

In the train station, in the shopping street, in the subway station - everywhere you are captured by cameras. Your own image, your own gait, a random movement - evaluated at lightning speed by an artificial intelligence that identifies individuals, compares them with databases and reports any suspicious behavior. This has long been possible and is becoming ever faster and more accurate from a technical perspective due to the rapid development of artificial intelligence. Such mass surveillance has long been common in China.

The traffic light parties had agreed in the coalition agreement: "We reject comprehensive video surveillance and the use of biometric recording for surveillance purposes." The right to anonymity in public space must be guaranteed. "Biometric recognition in public spaces and automated state scoring systems by AI are to be excluded under European law."


 An announcement in the direction of the European Union, which was already discussing the AI ​​Regulation (AI Act) at the end of 2021. It is intended to regulate the EU-wide legal framework for dealing with artificial intelligence. At the same time, the regulation is intended to determine what security authorities are allowed to use the ever faster and more powerful technology for.

 Subsequent evaluation should remain permitted. 

The interior and justice ministries say that they have "spoken in favor of a ban on biometric real-time remote recognition in public spaces under European law". The Federal Government has also spoken out in favor of the fact that the use of AI for retrograde biometric identification, for example for the assessment of evidence, should not be excluded under European law.

The negotiating position of the federal government in the EU is therefore: Real-time evaluation should be prohibited. At the same time, a subsequent biometric evaluation of video material, for example, should remain permitted, for example for search purposes.

An absurdity, thinks Anke Domscheit-Berg from the Left Party. For them it is completely incomprehensible how the coalition agreement could be interpreted in such a way that it would allow subsequent facial recognition in public spaces. She fears that there will be a kind of data retention: "So that in the future, large events or special places will simply be video recorded as standard and then an analysis will be carried out using facial recognition to identify people."

Searches using software are already commonplace In principle

, automated use of biometric data for search purposes has existed in Germany for some time. The Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), for example, has been using software since 2008 that is already getting better and better at recognizing and comparing biometric data thanks to machine learning. It is used to compare mug shots or cell phone videos of witnesses with other photos in police databases. The software provides a list of suggested hits. However, the actual identification is still carried out by human specialists.

  In around 90,000 queries in 2021, 5,000 people were identified in this way after the results of the facial recognition system were verified by investigators. The BKA writes: "Without such technology, it would often not be possible to generate investigation information in such cases." The aim is to provide the best possible support for clerical work and to narrow down the group of suspects and endangerers in criminal proceedings or averting danger. However, real-time identification based on biometric data does not take place at the BKA.

Doubts about proportionality

The German Lawyers' Association recognizes the concern to combat crime. However, he sees major problems of proportionality when comparing biometric data from people who happen to be in public places without giving reason for such a check themselves.

The federal government's distinction between "real-time" and "retrograde" biometric evaluation does not change the depth of the intervention, says David Albrecht from the Bar Association: "For those affected, it exerts the same pressure, the same feeling of being monitored when the recordings are made in real time evaluated and compared, as if they were subsequently evaluated with a time offset."


Especially since the draft of the AI ordinance only envisages low hurdles for use: "As it is currently in the draft, simple theft, for example, which happens in the train station, i.e. pickpocketing, would be sufficient to draw on this means of the use biometric remote identification.

"Albrecht thinks it is important to already anchor a limitation of biometric identification in the AI regulation at European level. Because such regulations apply directly and can only be restricted to a limited extent by national law.

Not negotiated yet

 So have the SPD, Greens and FDP announced something in their coalition agreement that the federal government is not sticking to? The digital policy spokesman for the FDP, Maximilian Funke-Kaiser, rejects this accusation: "The thing has not yet been negotiated."

As in the coalition agreement, the negotiating position of the federal government is that it opposes facial recognition in public spaces. "And you go into the negotiations with this goal in mind," said Funke-Kaiser. "Once you have different opinions with the other countries, you obviously have to try to come to a conclusion after all."

Parsa Marvi, rapporteur for the SPD parliamentary group, argues similarly. The demands from the coalition agreement are supported, he says. "But in the end there can be a compromise. And then it will be about detailed questions and about this distinction between real time and retrograde. That is then Realpolitik."

That's not enough for left-wing opposition politician Domscheit-Berg: "My concern is that the federal government will allow us to get regulation from Europe that opens the door to mass surveillance in public spaces using biometric data." She calls for more public discussion about the artificial intelligence regulation, which is currently being negotiated in the EU

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