France Set To Legalise AI-Powered Surveillance For Olympics

French National Assembly set to approve ‘intelligent’ AI-powered surveillance to safeguard 2024 Paris Olympics, amidst human rights outcry

France’s National Assembly is due to adopt a controversial law on Tuesday that would legalise the use of artificial intelligence-powered surveillance on a trial basis in order to protect next year’s Paris Olympic Games.

The bill, which also includes more general measures such as allowing shops to open on Sundays, is most notorious for Article 7 that allows the temporary use of so-called “intelligent” surveillance driven by algorithms.

If passed, the measure would make France the first EU country to legalise AI-powered surveillance, at a time when the bloc is working on its own AI Act that seeks to limit the use of the technology in public spaces for law enforcement purposes.

The French text was approved by the Senate in January by a margin of 245 votes to 28 and was adopted by the Assembly in a preliminary vote last week.

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Image credit: Scott Webb/Pexels

Biometric data

Proponents of the law say the measure would help identify security concerns such as abandoned packages or crowd surges during the Games, set for 26 July to 11 August of next year.

It allows for the technology to be used specifically to safeguard large-scale cultural and sporting events on an experimental basis to the end of 2024.

They say the technology would be overseen by the CNIL, the country’s data protection regulator, which is backing the bill on the condition that no biometric data is involved, including recognition of facial images.

Instead the technology will focus on people’s physical traits such as postures, gestures and movements, proponents say.

But human rights groups say this in itself constitutes a dangerous invasion of privacy and could be considered a form of biometric data.

‘All-out assault’

“While France promotes itself as a champion of human rights globally, its decision to legalise AI-powered mass surveillance during the Olympics will lead to an all-out assault on the rights to privacy, protest, and freedom of assembly and expression,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

“By adopting this law, France would become the champion of video surveillance in the EU and set an extremely dangerous precedent,” Katia Roux, Amnesty’s technology and human rights specialist, told France24.

Patrick Breyer, an MEP in the European Parliament with the Pirate Party, said the law “creates a new reality of mass surveillance that is unprecedented in Europe”.

If adopted on Tuesday the bill is scheduled for further fine-tuning by assembly members and senators before final adoption, expected next month.