Incident 184: Facial Recognition Program in São Paulo Metro Stations Suspended for Illegal and Disproportionate Violation of Citizens’ Right to Privacy
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The company responsible for running the São Paulo metro system was ordered to suspend the use of facial recognition technology.
According to the decision issued on Tuesday by judge Cynthia Thome at the São Paulo State Court, Companhia do Metropolitano de São Paulo (METRO) must immediately suspend the process to capture and processing of biometric data for facial recognition in the context of the implementation of an electronic surveillance system.
Moreover, the company has been ordered to immediately suspend the roll-out of new equipment that promotes data capture and biometrics processing for facial recognition. The decision also sets a daily fine in the event of non-compliance.
The decision follows a civil lawsuit initiated by several civil rights organizations calling for a ban on the use of facial recognition technology amid discrimination concerns. According to the latest sentence, the entities argued that despite the fact this was not explicit in the public notice for the system, one of its objectives is implementing a facial recognition system of all subway users, with capacity for data storage and sharing.
The claimants argued that the electronic monitoring system would involve facial recognition, with images of all 4 million daily metro users captured by a system called SecurOS. The goal is to store data, and there is a possibility that SecurOS will be integrated with other electronic monitoring systems based on facial recognition.
Citing the civil lawsuit, the sentence noted the organizations deem the capture of biometric data from all Metro users as "illegal and disproportionate, since all faces, from all users, will be read, copied, measured and recorded." In addition, the organizations argued that despite the data processing activities, there are no measures in place for obtaining consent and non-consent to data processing biometric data of subway users.
In addition, the sentence noted the entities have argued that there is a lack of transparency around the characteristics and risks related to the treatment of personal data by the company running the São Paulo metro system. The organizations noted that METRO failed to explain which database will be used to train facial recognition models, which prevents evaluating the project efficiency. Furthermore, there is no information about the evaluation and impact measures and risk mitigation in implementing the electronic monitoring system with facial recognition.
According to the latest decision, judge Thome noted that METRO has not yet provided precise information about how facial recognition would be used in the subway system and how the information would be processed.
The sentence argued that the case presents several technical issues that require additional evidence, but the system's implementation could impact citizens' fundamental rights.
"On the other hand, it must be considered that the administrative contract is in force and that there was a large investment by METRO. In addition, no doubt suspending the execution of the contract regarding the installation of the system may generate irreversible damages", the sentence noted.
Contacted by ZDNet, METRO said that it had not been notified of the decision. However, the company said it "will appeal and provide all clarifications, since the new monitoring system strictly complies with the General Data Protection Regulations provisions." Since February, personal data protection is a fundamental right in Brazil.
A court in São Paulo has called for a halt in the implementation of a facial recognition system in the city’s metro stations, writes ZDNet.
Judge Cynthia Thome of the São Paulo State Court recently made the ruling in response to a suit filed by a group of civil society organizations that called for the suspension of the biometric system on grounds that it violates citizens’ right to privacy, describing it as “illegal and disproportionate.”
The rights group had also raised fears the biometric system, revealed to be SecurOS, could be integrated with the electronic system of other facial recognition surveillance entities without the consent of data subjects.
SecurOS is a video face biometrics platform launched by ISS in 2019, and it is operated for the transit system by ViaQuatro. The company has been in charge of capturing the biometrics of about four million daily metro users in Sao Paolo.
Apart from putting a halt to the system, the court also stopped the Companhia do Metropolitano de São Paulo (METRO) from rolling out any new equipment which can capture and process facial recognition data from metro users, according to ZDNet. The ruling also outlines a daily fine for the company in the case of default on the court order.
Another concern raised in the ruling is the fact that the metro operator has demonstrated a lack of transparency in terms of adequately communicating about the nature and risks related to the capture, storage and processing of the biometric data of metro users. The ruling adds that the system was also being implemented without any proper risk or impact assessment, as the face biometrics company did not give information about how the system would run and how the biometric data collected will be processed.
ZDNet says it contacted METRO for a comment but the company said had not been notified of the ruling. METRO however told the outlet it was going to file an appeal and prove that its system is being deployed in compliance with relevant local data protection regulations.
ViaQuatro was ordered by a court decision in a civil suit in May last year to halt the deployment of the facial recognition system in the São Paulo metro.
The implementation of a facial recognition system at this metro has faced stiff resistance from civil rights groups.
A court in São Paulo has asked for the execution of a facial recognition system to be stopped in the city's train stations, composes ZDNet.
The rights group had also raised concerns that the biometric system, exposed to be SecurOS, could be integrated with the electronic system of other facial recognition security entities without the consent of the persons concerned.
SecurOS is a video facial biometrics platform introduced by ISS in 2019, and it is managed for system transit by ViaQuatro. The company was actually tasked with capturing the biometric data of around 4 million daily users in the city of Sao Paulo.
In addition to shutting down the system, the court also stopped the Companhia do Metropolitano de São Paulo (METRO) from introducing any new equipment capable of recording and processing facial recognition information from subway users, according to ZDNet. The judgment also provides for a daily fine for the company in the event of failure to comply with the court order.
Another concern raised in the judgment is the reality that the city operator has demonstrated a lack of openness in communicating sufficiently about the nature and risks associated with the seizure, storage and processing biometric data of city users. The ruling says the system was also being implemented without a proper threat or impact assessment, as the facial biometrics company did not provide information on how the system works and how the information collected biometrics will be processed.
ZDNet says it called the city for comment, but the company said it was not informed of the decision. METRO told the outlet, however, that it would appeal and show that its system was released in accordance with relevant regional defense of information regulations.
ViaQuatro was bought by a court order in a civil crisis last May to stop the deployment of the facial recognition system in the São Paulo metro.
Running a facial recognition system in this city has faced strong resistance from civil rights groups.