Through the door without stigma

Residents of nursing homes are allowed to walk around freely thanks to the open-door vision, unless this compromises the safety of themselves or others. That means that they are not allowed to just come everywhere. Theo Breuers developed a system based on facial recognition that warns when a resident enters or leaves certain areas. The project looked like General Data Protection Regulation(AVG)-proof, but ran up against privacy legislation.

Photo: Liesbeth Dingemans

Intention: Open doors in the nursing home

Since 2019 uses Sevagram, a care institution with various nursing homes in Limburg, the 'freedom', unless' principle. Residents are allowed to move freely within and around the location, provided their own safety and that of others can be ensured. Residents wear a wrist transmitter that sends a notification to the healthcare professional when they walk through the wrong door.

‘How nice would it be if residents were no longer stigmatized by a wrist transmitter?Spy, Sevagram wondered. The healthcare institution contacted software developer Theo Breuers, who has experience with facial recognition systems in, among other things, football stadiums. He sees opportunities for nursing homes.

Breuers' system issues a warning to nursing staff when a resident enters or leaves a certain room. The system stores from registered persons (with permission) some facial features ("vectors") on. When the camera detects someone, the system compares the characteristics of that person with the registered characteristics. It is then determined what rights the person with those characteristics has, without the system knowing who the person is. No face can be reconstructed from the attributes and no photos will be saved. Privacy by design, would you say.

“How nice would it be if residents were no longer stigmatized by a wristband?”

Approach: A system based on facial recognition, tested against the GDPR

In collaboration with Sevagram, Theo Breuers immediately started developing the system. He sought contact with partners who, among other things, open- and develop locking techniques because his company Compo does not own them. Since many care home systems are not GDPR-proof, Breuers made sure that his system could function on its own.

Breuers knew from the start that privacy legislation could create barriers. After all, you can't just store data from casual passers-by. People must be able to actively give their consent before they are portrayed, and agree to the use of their data. That is why Breuers had the system checked against the GDPR. "That seemed okay. A nursing home is not a public building and everyone who enters the building, could theoretically sign something to give permission. We also didn't hang cameras on the outside of the building, so you don't have any 'by-catch' from chance passers-by.'

“The law is misinterpreted when it comes to facial recognition.”

Result: Blocked by a strict interpretation of privacy law

Even before a pilot could be started, a second check with external parties revealed that the system did not comply with privacy legislation. It was not allowed to be used. "The law is misinterpreted on facial recognition",’ thinks Theo Breuers. According to him, it is important to distinguish between security systems and facial recognition. Security cameras record everything and everyone that passes by, while Breuers' system has no so-called by-catch.

To get around this problem, Breurers should build a second system for everyone who visits the nursing home, with the exception of the clients, based on, for example, barcodes or living circles. ‘We have decided not to do this because we still have a stigmatizing effect. That would bring us back to square one.”

"This problem will soon also occur in other places where facial recognition is used.",’ he suspects. It seems that the translation of the GDPR into law- and regulations have not taken into account future developments. In this case, new developments make it possible to observe people, without violating their privacy.

Learning moments and perspectives for action

Diver from Acapulco – Timing. When is the right time to do something?

Facial recognition is a technology that is developing at lightning speed and Breuers' company Compo Software is at the forefront of innovation. The current strict interpretation of the privacy law offers hardly any room for innovative applications, but it is quite possible that the law will be interpreted more broadly in due course.

Bridge of Honduras – Problems move

Breuers solves the problem of stigmatizing bracelets and alarms with facial recognition, but ran into another problem: privacy.

Canyon – ingrained patterns

The interpretation of privacy legislation (GDPR of AVG) is not very flexible. People are used to interpreting the law in a certain way, based on the possibilities of that moment, leaving little room for innovations. In addition, you see a lot of risk-averse behaviour, that tends to disapprove rather than allow something.

Elephant – The total is greater than the sum of its parts

Technologically, the project is a success and the concept can be implemented at a relatively low cost. But there is also added value from other perspectives, including from the legal side. Before you know it, the well-known formula threatens to play up: NT+OO=DOO: New Technology in an Old Organization Resulting in an Expensive Old Organization.