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Berlin starts controversial test of facial recognition cameras at train station

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Berlin's Südkreuz station. Photo: DPA.
10:28 CEST+02:00
A Berlin train station on Tuesday became the first to test out software that will automatically recognize faces in an effort to fight terrorism. But not everyone sees the project as positive.

Berlin’s Südkreuz station on Tuesday started the pilot project on behalf of the federal government to use surveillance cameras to test the software’s ability to recognize the faces of passersby. Around 300 people voluntarily registered to be part of the test for six months.

Their names and faces were saved into a database so that when they are picked up by the cameras, computers will compare them back to the database as they come and go through the station. Three different facial recognition systems will be tested out through the project, according to the Interior Ministry.

The President of the German Bar Association, Ulrich Schellenberg, warned that the extensive use of facial recognition technology in public places would seriously encroach upon the fundamental rights of Germany’s citizens.

“We are heading towards a surveillance state that will give us less and less air,” said Schellenberg.

“There is no constitutional basis for implementing these methods extensively.”

Berlin’s data security officer, Maja Smoltczyk, said the technology carried an “enormous risk of abuse”, adding that individual’s rights to move through public spaces freely are threatened.

“Furthermore, significant social control can be practiced on the people through the technology."

But Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière defended the project, saying that the public’s sense of security would be strengthened, arguing that surveillance helps to deter and solve crimes.

“Our public places must be safe,” de Maizière said.

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