Facial recognition technology: fundamental rights considerations in the context of law enforcement

Cover page of report
Published by:
European Institutions (EU, CoE)
Date of publication:
Background Material


Facial recognition technology (FRT) makes it possible to compare digital facial images to determine whether they are of the same person. Comparing footage obtained from video cameras (CCTV) with images in databases is referred to as ‘live facial recognition technology’. Examples of national law enforcement authorities in the EU using such technology are sparse – but several are testing its potential.

EU law recognises people’s facial images (which are a form of biometric data) as ‘sensitive data’. But such images are also quite easy to capture in public places. Although the accuracy of matches is improving, the risk of errors remains real – particularly for certain minority groups. Moreover, people whose images are captured and processed might not know this is happening – and so cannot challenge possible misuses.

This paper looks at the fundamental rights implications of relying on live FRT, focusing on its use for law enforcement and border-management purposes. It covers the following topics:


  1. Facial recognition technology and fundamental rights: setting the scene
  2. Facial images as a unique biometric identifier in EU law
  3. What is facial recognition technology?
  4. Accuracy of facial recognition technology: assessing the risks of wrong identification
  5. Use of facial recognition technology by public authorities in the EU
  6. Fundamental rights implications of using live facial recognition: general points
  7. Fundamental rights most affected