The French Parliament votes biometric surveillance at the Paris Olympics
European Union lawmakers are well on their way to banning the use of remote biometric monitoring for general law enforcement purposes. However, that didn’t stop French parliamentarians from voting in favor of deploying AI to monitor public spaces for suspicious behavior during the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Parliament on Thursday approved a plan to use automated behavioral surveillance of public spaces during games, ignoring objections from around 40 MPs who had penned an open letter denouncing the proposal. The vote followed an earlier endorsement by the French Senate. (Via Politics.)
The 2024 Olympics are due to take place in Paris from July 26 to August 11.
The EU AI Act, a new risk-based framework for regulating AI applications, includes a ban on the use of ‘real-time’ remote biometric identification systems in publicly accessible spaces for law enforcement purposes — with, in the original draft proposal, exceptions allowed for certain potential victims of crime (such as missing children); for the prevention ofa specific, substantial and imminent threat” to life or physical safety or a terrorist attack; or to identify a the perpetrator or suspect of a criminal offense referred. Although MPs have been pushing for a more comprehensive ban.
Critics of the French plan suggest it goes far beyond the limited law enforcement exceptions allowed in the draft proposal – relying on untested AI to identify something as vague as behavior suspicious.
Commenting in a statement, Patrick Breyer, MEP in the European Parliament with the Pirate Party, denounced the use of what he called “error-prone” and intrusive technology, saying: “The decision of the French Parliament to Allowing automated behavioral surveillance in public spaces to search for “abnormal behaviour” creates a new mass surveillance reality unprecedented in Europe. I expect the court to strike down this indiscriminate surveillance legislation for violating our fundamental rights.
“Such suspicious machines will falsely flag countless citizens, are discriminatory, educate conformist behavior and are absolutely useless in catching criminals, as studies and experiments have proven. Little by little, as in China, social diversity is threatened and our open society replaced by a conformist consumer society.
The AI law was proposed by the European Commission almost two years ago, but remains under negotiation by the institutions of the bloc – with discussions on the record complicated by ongoing divisions and technological developments, such as the rise of general-purpose AIs like OpenAI’s GPT-4 (with AIs at general use not explicitly included in the original proposal, highlighting both how the field of AI is rapidly evolving and, therefore, the challenge for regulators to create effective and scalable frameworks to regulate applications of the technology).
This means that the whole and the details of the future pan-European law are not yet settled. And even in the best-case scenario — that is, if lawmakers across the bloc reach a quick compromise — it still may not be implemented in time for the Paris Olympics. Nonetheless, the French decision seems awkward to say the least – suggesting the bloc is on track for a new era of legal friction between national security priorities and EU fundamental rights protections.
France is one of many EU member states that has repeatedly refused to bow to EU rules on blanket, indiscriminate data retention – contradicting that the activity is essential for national security – despite the fact that the bloc’s highest court has issued a number of rulings that have criticized such bulk data collection schemes. And future waves of legal challenges over the state’s misuse of powerful AI tools, for blanket, indiscriminate surveillance, may well accelerate.
In the meantime, the French government’s plan to cover the Paris Olympics with AI-powered surveillance could still be challenged by the country’s Constitutional Court. It therefore remains to be seen whether participants in the 2024 Summer Olympics will face behavioral assessment by algorithms.
The CNIL, France’s data protection watchdog, has stepped up its focus on artificial intelligence in recent months – setting up a dedicated department to work on the technology in January, in preparation for the upcoming EU data protection law. ‘IA. She could therefore take a close interest in the government’s plan. (We reached out to the CNIL to ask them about their views on the plan and will update this report if they respond.)