three days later the failure to maintain order around the Stade de Francethe mayor of Nice Christian Estrosi was calling to use facial recognition to facilitate the management of major events. But what could algorithms have brought to crowd management visibly disorganized ? One year from the Rugby World Cup, two years from the Paris Olympics and in full work on European regulations for artificial intelligence, the question is not trivial.
Technosolution or technodiversion?
There is the question of the organization of the Champions League final, first. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin quickly mentioned 30,000 to 40,000 British supporters holding counterfeit tickets, an estimate if unlikely as the chairman of the Liverpool club required an apology from the government. At Real Madrid, the same thing: we want explanations on the chaos of May 28, and fast. Talking about facial recognition in such a context is a diversionary strategy, believes Arthur Messaud, of the association for the protection of digital rights La Quadrature du Net: “It’s a way of moving the debate away towards details rather than to leave focused on questions of human organization, which technology would not allow to repair in any case. »
Author of a study on the effectiveness of video surveillance systems used by the gendarmerie, Guillaume Gormand agrees: “The problem is not so much having a tool as the way in which it is used. Properly operated, the surveillance systems present around the stadium would have potentially been sufficient. But if the organization does not follow, no camera or algorithm will compensate for the management flaws.
Behind the algorithms, video surveillance
All the same, Christian Estrosi’s proposal fits into a specific context, that of an inflation of surveillance devices in the public space, first of all, which Guillaume Gormand details as concomitant with a lobby of private actors. “After the legalization of 1995, we first saw the large municipalities equip themselves, then the market stagnate. It took off again when Nicolas Sarkozy made an ideological promotion of video surveillance, during his campaign and then his mandate. » In 2019, the Gazette of the communes counted 11,470 cameras in 47 of the largest cities in France, i.e. 2.4 times more than in 2013. Except that these are only a base, continues the researcher: “Today, we are adding a lot of tools , counting software, algorithms, to carry out experiments. Except that testing is good, but then you have to check if it works. »
However, the effectiveness of the two technologies – pure video surveillance, first, that of the algorithms applied to it, second – is subject to debate. In 2018, sociologist Laurent Mucchielli reported that only 1 to 3% of offenses committed on public roads were solved thanks to the images of the cameras. In 2020, the Court of Auditors underlined that the amounts spent on these devices were constantly increasing, while very few studies proved their effectiveness. In the work commissioned by the Research Center of the School of Gendarmerie Officers, Guillaume Gormand notes for his part that video surveillance has no deterrent or displacement effect on delinquency. Furthermore, the images collected were only used in 1.13% of its investigations. corpus. All the same, he specifies, video surveillance “can be useful in the management of large events because it allows the authorities to project themselves on the ground”, to see live what is happening there. .
Regulate to avoid misuse?
From this point of view, video devices could therefore be useful. Although, the researcher further indicates, “in sensitive events, the actors in the field turn to what they master best: radio, live, information collected on the spot… New technologies take second place. And then that doesn’t solve the question of algorithms. Using them to identify individuals “banned from the stadium” and going to “pick them up in the early morning” as Christian Estrosi suggests, this fits into the context of more or less regulated technological experiments in sporting events. In January 2019, FC Metz supporters, for example, were surprised to learn from press lane that they had been subjected to the tests of the algorithms of the company Two-I.
It is precisely to avoid this type of problem that three senators made a report on biometric recognition in the public space. In 30 proposals, they recommend “drawing red lines to avoid the surveillance society and passing an experimentation law over three years, to test different use cases”, summarizes co-rapporteur Marc-Philippe Daubresse (LR). Among the proposed limits: prohibit real-time facial recognition without the possibility of obtaining people’s consent, “except for access to a dangerous site such as nuclear sites, or to major events with risks of overflow or attack terrorist, like the Olympic Games”. In fact, such a proposal reopens the debate on the use of facial recognition in 2024, even though the prospect had been ruled out in October 2021 by the interministerial delegate to the Olympic Games.
The little music of surveillance technologies
Above all, the senators call for the debate to be clarified according to the cases of use of this type of algorithm. In this, they join researchers from the Legal Implications of Artificial Intelligence Chair at the University of Grenobles-Alpes, authors of a detailed cartography uses of facial recognition in Europe. In essence, these actors are saying that authenticating a user with their consent (for example, comparing their face at the entrance to a stadium with a photo they allegedly took from their smartphone a few days earlier) has far fewer implications. than identifying a person in a crowd as does the london police.
But for Arthur Messaud of La Quadrature du Net, “it is precisely at these times when there are few ideological debates on the interest of good organization, of reducing queues, that the government or the police are the most adept at pushing privacy-threatening technologies. Adopting facial recognition tools to smooth the flow of supporters seems harmless, relatively neutral, but it accustoms the population to invasive technologies. “That Christian Estrosi is offering facial recognition at the Stade de France is almost absurd in fact. But proposing this kind of thing every six months, it accustoms us to the little music of surveillance. »
In the background, the regulation of artificial intelligence
If Marc-Philippe Daubresse and his co-rapporteurs Arnaud de Belenet (LREM) and Jérôme Durain (PS) call for a framework for biometric recognition to authorize certain uses and prohibit others, on the side of La Quadrature du Net, we are therefore resolutely versus. At the beginning of June, the association even launched a campaign to carry a collective complaint with the CNIL against “Technopolice”, a term behind which it brings together many of the technologies promoted by Christian Estrosi – video surveillance, facial recognition algorithms or even automated behavior detection.
In this, the two perfectly illustrate one of the debates which is likely to shake not only the preparations for the Olympic Games, but also the European Parliament, when it comes to regulating algorithmic surveillance technologies: is it better to ban them completely, as enjoins germany, notably ? Or rather accept certain applications, subject to experimentation?
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Will algorithms make it possible to better manage sporting events?
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