Artificial intelligence (AI) powers the use of biometric technologies, including facial recognition applications, which are used for verification, identification and categorisation purposes by private or public actors. While facial recognition markets are poised to grow substantially in the coming years, the increasing use of facial recognition technologies (FRTs) has emerged as a salient issue in the worldwide public debate on biometric surveillance. While there are real benefits to using facial recognition systems for public safety and security, their pervasiveness and intrusiveness, as well as their susceptibility to error, give rise to a number of fundamental rights concerns with regard, for instance, to discrimination against certain segments of the population and violations of the right to data protection and privacy. To address such effects, the EU has already put strict rules in place under the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the General Data Protection Regulation, the Law Enforcement Directive and the EU framework on nondiscrimination, which also apply to FRT-related processes and activities.
This paper: (1) provides an overview of the technologies, economics and different uses of facial recognition technologies; (2) highlights concerns arising from the technology’s specific characteristics and from its potential impacts on people’s fundamental rights; (3) takes stock of the legal framework, especially the data protection and non-discrimination rules currently applicable to facial recognition in the European Union (EU); and (4) examines the recent proposal for an EU artificial intelligence act, regulating facial recognition technologies. Finally, (5) the paper briefly looks at the approaches taken to facial recognition regulation outside the EU and at an international level.