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European court rules emotion recognition projects can bypass public debate

A loss for privacy.
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The General Court of the European Union (EGC) last week ruled that “emotion recognition” projects like the one bankrolled by the EU taxpayers and under fire for being secretive, should not be compelled to organize public debates about such biometric experiments.

Instead, says ARTICLE 19, an international freedom of expression and information group, the court disappointingly prioritized commercial over public interest. Public scrutiny of similar projects, the group said, should be in place from the start of developing schemes like the one in question here, iBorderCtrl: Intelligent Portable Border Control System.

The EGC did find that European Commission’s Research Executive Agency (REA) was negligent in assessing requests by digital rights activist and MEP Patrick Breyer – and ARTICLE 19 says that this part of the ruling will be important going forward when it comes to transparency in biometrics-fueled EU-funded projects.

The essence of the court’s decision is that while oversight of surveillance tech in a democratic society is necessary – this is true only once such development projects have been completed, rather than from the very start.

Criticizing the court for failing to appreciate that iBorderCtrl is paid by EU tax money while failing to take into account the need to allow access to information in the public domain whenever sensitive biometric tech projects are involved – ARTICLE 19’s Senior Director for Law and Policy Barbora Bukovska also noted that importantly, the court “fails to understand the grave threats emotion recognition systems pose to freedom of expression, privacy, and equality.”

Bukovska further stated that Article 19 is in favor of imposing a complete ban on emotion recognition as pseudoscientific, while at the time clashing with fundamental international rights, and ignoring the adverse effects it may have on society.

The iBorderCtrl research costs €4.5 million of EU money and the tech is supposed to consist of an “AI”-based video lie detector that detects whether those traveling to the EU are telling the truth when asked certain questions.

Other assessment criteria include interpreting facial expressions and behavior, and coupling that with these people’s social media history, such as their Facebook and other profiles and activities.

MEP Breyer asked for access to documents pertaining to ethical assessment and legality of all this, but the EC rejected his demand, saying a positive response would “undermine the protection of the commercial interest, including intellectual property of REA.”

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