A controversial EU vote was tested on Thursday on whether to ban the police’s power to use facial recognition technology or deem it a normal practice of lawful policing.

Some argued that testing the vote encouraged unfair comparisons between the majority of police forces and China’s mass surveillance regime, conflating biometric technology with ‘surveillance’.

The law amendment was narrowed down in one of 12 groups of proposed amendments from 3,000 submitted by the committee of MEPs last year. The test vote was influenced by the impending AI Act which will focus on regulating the use of modern technologies to maintain the public’s right to privacy and security.

A group of centre-right EU lawmakers are challenging the law amendments to defend appropriate modern policing methods.

Previously, the IBIA shut down claims by some US senators that the Transport Security Association used “surveillance” biometrics, contributing to a false narrative around ‘surveillance’ technologies.

Charities have expressed their concern that real-time facial recognition is being abused by police and border officials on streets in the EU as well as by authoritarian countries like China.

Dragos Tudorache, representative of the AI Act, supported the vote saying:

“There is no stronger safeguard [than this ban]. A border crossing point is a public space. According to the text we have right now, you will not be able to deploy AI biometric recognition technology in a public space”.

It was reported in 2021 that 40 MEPs called for the incoming legislative proposal on AI (known as the AI Act) to place an outright ban biometric surveillance, or biometric technologies used by authorities in public spaces.

MEPS wrote: “Biometric mass surveillance technology in publicly accessible spaces is widely being criticised for wrongfully reporting large numbers of innocent citizens, systematically discriminating against under-represented groups and having a chilling effect on a free and diverse society. This is why a ban is needed”.

In December 2018, Elizabeth Denham, the UK’s Information Commissioner opened a thorough investigation to uncover how police forces used FRT after mass failure rates and misidentifications, bias, intrusive testing and discriminatory practices.

With 84 votes in favour and 7 against, Thursday’s vote opened negotiations for a mandate to implement rules over Artificial Intelligence. MEPS created a list of intrusive uses of facial recognition technology which included prohibiting predictive policing systems for profiling, categorisation (biased) systems, ’emotion’ recognition and “real-time” screening.

However, the draft omitted a ban on law enforcement biometric use in the case of serious crimes after judicial approval.

Before negotiations with the Council on a formal law can proceed, the whole Parliament must vote on the draft mandate in 12-15 June session.