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Blanket ban on facial recognition tech “not the answer” says Profusion CEO

Amid growing furore surrounding the facial recognition category, Natalie Cramp, CEO at data science consultancy Profusion has been quick to assert that an outright Europe-wide ban on such technologies is not the answer.

Cramp said: “It’s easy to see why facial recognition tech has become such a major fixture in the ethical data debate. On the one hand, it throws up all sorts of questions as to whether this technology could undermine fundamental privacy rights and how it can be kept in check. However, facial recognition tech also offers lots of benefits – from improving security measures, enhancing digital experiences and safeguarding businesses against theft to even helping find missing people. In this way, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. 

“The reality is introducing an outright blanket ban on facial recognition tech across Europe could prove hugely limiting and place the continent far behind others where adoption of this tech has become widespread and proved hugely beneficial.”

Cramp is appealing to EU regulators to remember that “not all facial recognition is the same”. For example, while blanket facial recognition on CCTV is a part of everyday life, advanced facial recognition tech does offer opt-in/opt-out functionality at an individual level. She also believes that monitoring software is not as poorly regarded by the public as some regulators believe.

She said: “In a recent study we conducted at Profusion, two thirds of people are comfortable with their employer monitoring them – if they can see the data. Most believed it would help to level the playing field by letting data play a critical objective role.

“Clearly then, it’s not always black and white. The key is informed consent and transparency. People will be more comfortable if they have control and can see the benefit.  Therefore, legislation should focus on giving people the power of choice rather than banning this technology outright.” 

On regulation, as the second reading of the UK Data Protection and Digital Information Bill was recently withdrawn from the day’s House of Commons business “to allow ministers to consider the legislation further”, Cramp adds: “We were not completely surprised to hear of delays to the new Protection and Digital Bill, and it is our hope that further consultation might help to sharpen focus on the deep complexities involved and lack of real requirement.

“Four years have passed since the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) entered into effect and overturned the status quo. To change everything again is the wrong answer – GDPR (with faults or not) is a useful baseline and we work in a global context so the admin of working in different ways across continents takes away more than it gains.”

“Technology moves faster than the law so the real focus needs to be on educating businesses on data ethics so they can take full advantage of the opportunities data science offers but avoid the disasters like the recruitment algorithms being discussed by operating in the right way. This will build trust, accelerate innovation and results for businesses and minimise negative impacts on people”.