French legislators have approved the use of intelligent surveillance cameras for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, despite privacy advocates’ concerns that the technology infringes on residents’ privacy, particularly if employed beyond the event.
The French National Assembly recently greenlit a bill permitting companies to trial computer vision cameras at stadiums and adjacent transport hubs, aiming to support law enforcement with security measures. However, these cameras could legally remain operational until the end of 2024.
Opposition to algorithmic surveillance
This surveillance method analyzes individuals’ physical features and sends relevant alerts to security personnel. A recent deployment of similar technology in the United States led to the wrongful imprisonment of an innocent man for six days. France’s privacy regulator acknowledges the potential risks associated with the technology.
Bertrand Pailhes, Cnil’s head of technology and innovation, said, “We should experiment to know more about the effectiveness of this technology.” Companies frequently utilize computer vision technology to examine industrial processes, such as monitoring chicken-processing plants’ activity.
Olympics: Security through computer vision
Cnil plans to supervise technology firms awarded government contracts for deploying computer vision cameras to monitor security during the games.
The regulator is anticipated to offer guidance on privacy regulations and investigate potential breaches.
However, there are concerns that officials may exploit the Olympics as a pretext for conducting widespread, long-term surveillance. “The Olympic Games is actually a great justification for them to make this technology acceptable,” remarks Noemie Levain, a legal advisor for La Quadrature du Net, a French privacy and digital rights nonprofit.
The organization asserts that the new legislation legalizes biometric surveillance, making France the first European nation to allow it.
Proponents of computer vision contracts and surveillance argue that since the cameras are not designed to automatically identify people, they do not constitute biometric surveillance.
However, others contend that cameras meant to record human behavior and use algorithms to detect specific activities are a form of biometric surveillance. The debate may ultimately hinge on the definition of biometrics.
In 2020, during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, computer vision cameras faced severe criticism when Paris public transport authorities tested a system to monitor face mask usage.
The data protection regulator’s office halted the technology trial, as no specific legal authorization existed.
Despite later authorization, the system was not reintroduced due to legal complexities and criticism.