At least 10 national police forces in the European Union are pushing for an international face-recognition database to help identify criminals, raising concerns about the technology being used as a political tool during a time of rising authoritarianism, according to The Intercept.

The police forces, led by Austria, are calling for legislation that would create and interconnect databases in every member state, according to a report the Intercept obtained from a European official it described as “concerned about the network’s development.” The Intercept said the network would likely be connected to similar databases in the U.S.

The plan comes as the EU plans restrictions on the technology because of privacy concerns, and it may fuel more calls to ban facial-recognition software. Critics say the programs trample on privacy rights and have severe flaws when it comes to identifying minorities. EU officials last week released a plan that may restrict when governments and companies can use face-recognition cameras in public starting later this year.

The move contrasts with the U.S., which last month issued guidelines that take a lighter touch on regulating artificial intelligence in general. The U.S. approach is attracting investors. Last year, 1,356 AI-related startups in the U.S. raised a record $18.5 billion, according to the National Venture Capital Association.

Even so, a handful of U.S. cities, including San Francisco and Oakland, California, have banned facial-recognition technology. More than 40 privacy and civil rights organizations last month urged the U.S. Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent federal agency, to recommend that the U.S. government should suspend using the technology until further review.

The Intercept said the Austria-led report is part of talks to expand an EU-wide initiative connecting DNA, fingerprint, and vehicle registration databases. A similar system exists between the U.S. and any country that is part of the Visa Waiver Program, which includes the majority of EU countries; bilateral agreements also allow U.S. and European agencies to access one another’s fingerprint and DNA databases.

“This is concerning on a national level and on a European level, especially as some EU countries veer towards more authoritarian governments,” Edin Omanovic, advocacy director for Privacy International, told the Intercept. Omanovic said he is worried that a pan-European face database would be used for “politically motivated surveillance,” not just for standard police work.

  • Reuters last month reported that the EU was considering banning facial-recognition software in public areas for up to five years. The report was based on an 18-page white paper by the EU’s executive seen by Reuters.