EU drops idea of facial recognition ban in public areas: paper

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union has scrapped the possibility of a ban on facial recognition technology in public spaces, according to the latest proposals seen by Reuters.

An earlier draft by the European Commission had broached the idea of a moratorium of up to five years to give the bloc time to work out how to prevent abuses.

Facial recognition artificial intelligence has sparked a global debate about the pros and cons of a technology widely used by law enforcement agencies but abused by authoritarian regimes for mass and discriminatory surveillance. Critics say the technology can infringe people’s fundamental rights and breach data privacy rules.

The revised proposal, part of a package of measures to address the challenges of AI, could still be tweaked as the commission is currently seeking feedback before it presents its plan on Feb. 19.

The proposed AI rules would cover so-called high risk sectors such as healthcare and transport.

The U.S. government earlier this month unveiled its own AI regulatory guidelines aimed at limiting authorities’ overreach and urged Europe to avoid aggressive approaches.

Microsoft President Brad Smith has said that a facial recognition AI ban is akin to using a cleaver instead of a scalpel to solve potential problems while Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai has voiced support.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Leslie Adler