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Spanish Holidaymakers will now be Tracked by Real-Time Facial Recognition Software

Police in Spain deploy automated facial recognition software with massive database of biometric data.

Spanish police will soon be allowed to use an automatic facial recognition tool, dubbed ABIS (automatic biometric identification system). ABIS uses artificial intelligence to identify suspects from a database that is currently under development.

ABIS uses an algorithm called Cogent, which is developed by the French military technology company Thales. The technology uses real-time facial recognition and compares the image to a database of its citizens. A requirement for all everyone entering the EU has the biometric data added to their passport means that British holidaymakers will also included in the system, with their photos being held for five years on the Spanish database.

In Spain, police have two ways of identifying suspects when there is no suspect; fingerprint and DNA analysis. Now they will have a third option, Morning Express reported. Without automatic facial recognition, it is impossible to start a search for a suspect in footage without something that will narrow the search.

The database containing facial images will be the same one that contains DNA and fingerprint samples. The data is shared with other EU member states under the Schengen Information System (SIS). “The Spanish ABIS system can connect with European databases, such as Eurodac, EU-Lisa or VIS, since the corresponding links are designed. It is not an isolated system, but rather it is interconnected with the countries of the European Union,” sources in Thales explained.

EL PAÍS reported that the Spanish Agency for Data Protection (AEPD) has contacted the ministry of interior “to address various projects of the Ministry that could have an impact on data protection.” The data protection agency was not aware of ABIS until July. It wants to determine the risks the system poses to the rights and freedoms of citizens. It also wants to know how long the police will keep the images of suspects, who should have access to the data, and so on.

Brussels has categorized facial recognition technology as “high risk” and is working on regulation to adopt approaches that address the potential risk artificial intelligence systems carry. However, it has green-lit the use of facial recognition for “the purposes of preventing, arresting, or investigating serious crimes or terrorism.” Authorities have claimed the technology is not allowed to be used for general surveillance, but freedom campaigners have pointed to trials of the tech doing exactly that, an almost identical system as that used in China.


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