April 7 — In France, lawmakers have approved plans to use smart surveillance cameras during the Paris 2024 Olympic Games over objections from privacy advocates, who believe that the technology is intrusive for area residents, especially if it remains in use after the games.
France’s national assembly recently approved a bill that authorizes enterprises to test computer vision cameras at stadiums and nearby transportation hubs, with the intention of assisting law enforcement in security efforts. However, the cameras could legally remain in place until the end of 2024.
The argument against algorithms
This type of surveillance examines people’s physical characteristics and sends corresponding alerts to security authorities. Recent implementation of similar technology in the United States resulted in an innocent man’s imprisonment for six days. The French privacy regulator acknowledged that the technology comes with risks.
“We should experiment to know more about the effectiveness of this technology,” said Bertrand Pailhes, head of technology and innovation at Cnil, the French data-protection regulator.
Right now, companies commonly use computer vision technology to analyze industrial processes, such as monitoring activity in chicken-processing plants.
Olympics: Security by computer vision
Cnil intends to oversee technology firms that receive government contracts to use computer vision cameras for security monitoring during the games. The regulator is expected to advise companies around privacy rules and will investigate potential violations.
But again, people are concerned that officials will use the Olympics as a pretense for conducting large-scale, long-term surveillance. “The Olympic Games is actually a great justification for them to make this technology acceptable,” says Noemie Levain, a legal advisor for La Quadrature du Net, a French privacy and digital rights nonprofit.
The organization says that the new law will legalize biometric surveillance, making France the first European country to permit this.
Those in favor of computer vision contracts and surveillance contend that because the cameras aren’t designed to automatically identify people, they aren’t actually a form of biometric surveillance. But others argue that cameras designed to record human behavior and to use algorithms in order to identify specific types of activity are a form of biometric surveillance. The crux of the issue may be the definition of biometric.
As the coronavirus pandemic began to unfold in 2020, the use of computer vision cameras came under sharp criticism after Paris public transportation authorities tested a system to monitor whether or not people were wearing face masks. The data protection regulator’s office halted the trial of the technology because laws did not specifically authorize the tool.
When the tool was finally authorized, it was not put back into use on account of legal complexities and criticism. For more information about privacy concerns around AI at the 2024 Paris Olympics, please click here.
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