The explosive debate on facial recognition revived

We should not bury the prospect of a deployment of facial recognition in the public space on the occasion of the Paris Olympic Games in 2024. Mandated by the Senate Law Commission, three elected members of the upper house are resuscitated in a report the idea of ​​an experiment. These video surveillance technologies, which have become polemic magnets for fear of widespread surveillance, had nevertheless been openly dismissed by the government during a hearing with senators.

“Dozens of Olympic Games have been organized without facial recognition,” argued Cédric O last March. Two years earlier, the same had nevertheless launched a first attempt at experimentation around a large station before abandoning it, officially because the debate – flammable – was no longer possible in the midst of a health crisis.

Law of experimentation

From the Defender of Rights who sees in these technologies “unparalleled potential for discrimination” at the CNIL, which fears “unprecedented surveillance potential”, the bad reputation of this use of artificial intelligence in the security field is well established. But for the senators, there is no point in putting on blinders when these technologies exist and risk finding, in one way or another, how to emerge in the daily life of the French. To frame them, they call for the development of an experimentation law over a period of three years. A bill is within the realm of the possible.

“Rather than being in denial, let’s see the possibilities. We did not stop the Internet because there is the dark web ”, explains Jérôme Durain (PS), co-author of the report and the 30 legislative proposals which accompany it, with Marc-Philippe Daubresse (LR) and Arnaud of Belenet (Centrist Union). For them, major events – meetings of heads of state and sports competitions – should be the occasion for these tests.

Many prohibitions

The report proposes the creation of an “experimental legal framework allowing, by exception and in a strictly subsidiary manner, the targeted and time-limited use of biometric recognition systems on public roads in real time”. The idea is to identify wanted individuals presenting a threat in terms of terrorism or serious crime against people.

The senators also plan to allow access control systems in the stadiums – that is to say authentication – based on facial recognition, as there are in certain airports. But they match these authorizations for experimentation with a large number of prohibitions. “We recommend banning the use of facial recognition in everyday life,” sums up Jérôme Durain.

Finally, the report proposes to establish in the law the prohibitions around these technologies almost reserved for the public authorities. The latter would also not have the right to use real-time facial recognition during a demonstration as well as around a place of worship or to classify people according to gender or apparent religious or political belief. The senators are also pushing to limit the use of these technologies to situations where no other recourse is possible, and always under the control of a human.

Apart from exceptional events, however, elected officials want to allow the police and intelligence services to apply a posteriori, and not in real time, facial recognition algorithms on recorded images. Only in the context of investigations concerning the most serious facts.

CNIL skepticism in Europe

Representing companies in the sector, the Alliance for Digital Confidence is delighted to see the notion of experimentation come back into the debate. “If we kill innovation, there will only be Chinese or American artificial intelligence. How will we have protected our public freedoms if in ten years we no longer control any of the technologies that will have proven themselves? “, points out Yoann Kassianides, the secretary general of this lobby which counts among its members world champions in facial recognition, in particular Idemia, and a number of promising SMEs such as Unissey.

In parallel with these debates in France, discussions continue at European level. This week, the European CNIL once again expressed their skepticism by recommending ban on-the-fly facial recognition in the public space. This position is tougher than that of the European Commission whose a draft regulation envisaged for the police force. But this text will probably not be ready for 2024.

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The explosive debate on facial recognition revived


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