General Intelligence

A Single Company Will Now Operate Facial Recognition for Nearly 800 Million People

Idemia just scored a major new contract with the EU

Dave Gershgorn
OneZero
Published in
3 min readJun 5, 2020

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Photo illustration. Photo: NurPhoto/Getty Images

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Idemia, a French company specializing in facial, fingerprint, and iris recognition, just scored a new contract with the European Union that will include processing images attached to more than 400 million people’s identities. The company’s algorithms will verify the identity of EU residents who were born elsewhere and work for non-EU companies as they enter from external borders.

Idemia doesn’t have direct access to this data as an organization, and these aren’t contracts for live facial recognition for the surveillance of borders. But the company’s algorithms have now become the technology that decides if a person is allowed into much of the Western world.

In the United States, Idemia already has contracts with the U.S. Department of State to manage its enormous passport database, in which data on more than 360 million people is stored in Idemia’s proprietary format. Add up those contracts and Idemia will control whether nearly 800 million people are allowed to enter the United States, European Union, and Australia.

The new EU initiative is called the Shared Biometric Matching System, and it will eventually be linked to existing databases in the EU, including the Visa Information System and Entry/Exit System (EES). Idemia operates the Visa Information System, which helps determine which non-EU citizens can enter the Schengen Area, and held more than 50 million face images and fingerprints as of 2018.

The 400 million people cataloged in the new Shared Biometric Matching system will be third-country nationals, or people who aren’t from the EU who work for companies that are also not based in the EU. This would include, for instance, a Google employee working in the EU who is technically a citizen of Egypt.

Idemia also runs much of the TSA PreCheck, which more than 9 million Americans utilize, and it is one of the facial recognition companies used by the New York Police Department.

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Dave Gershgorn
OneZero

Senior Writer at OneZero covering surveillance, facial recognition, DIY tech, and artificial intelligence. Previously: Qz, PopSci, and NYTimes.