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France under fire over fast-track plan for AI video surveillance at Paris Olympics | France

The French government is accelerating the development of a special law for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games that will allow the use of video surveillance using artificial intelligence (AI) systems.

Ministers have argued that certain exceptional security measures are needed to ensure the events, which will draw 13 million spectators, can proceed unhindered, but human rights groups have warned that France is trying to use the Games as an excuse to expand police powers of surveillance, which could then become permanent.

The measures include a proposal to legalize the use of AI-assisted video surveillance.

For the first time in France, this will allow automated video surveillance, in which AI algorithms will be used to detect suspicious or “anomalous” activity in a crowd. These algorithms will analyze video footage from fixed CCTV cameras or drones, highlighting behavior deemed abnormal or suspicious, which will be automatically signaled to the police, who can act.

AI systems will be used to monitor crowds such as the 600,000 people expected at the opening ceremony in Paris, but can also be used around stadiums, on city streets and on public transport.

French Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castera described the bill as making “necessary adjustments” to ensure the games run smoothly. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said the bill would create a French “framework” for safe gaming.

The offer was made as France seeks to avoid a repeat of the chaos of last year’s Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid at the Stade de France, where fans, including children, were poisoned with tear gas and many fans complained that they were robbed at the stadium.

The French government stressed that its security proposals for the Olympics do not include the use of facial recognition technology. The ministers also stated that automated video surveillance had been an experimental measure for a certain period of time.

But advocacy groups have said the proposal will cover all sporting, festive and cultural events for an extended period of time from this spring to June 2025, long after the Games have ended. They said there was a danger that the measure could become permanent law.

The bill will be considered by the lower house of the national assembly in February after being approved by the Senate on Tuesday, but campaigners called for more public debate.

Amnesty International called the proposal a “turning point” in the use of AI surveillance technology in France and said it was a “dangerous step” for human rights and privacy rights.

Katia Roux, human rights and technology specialist at Amnesty International in France, said: “We are deeply concerned that these algorithms will be able to analyze images from fixed CCTV cameras or drones to detect ‘anomalous or suspicious’ behaviour. . First, there is the problem of defining abnormal or suspicious behavior – who will decide what behavior is normal and what is not? In addition, in terms of human rights and fundamental freedoms, we believe that this proposal poses a danger to the right to privacy, it may also affect freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and the principle of non-discrimination.”

Roux said that while the government has said no biometrics will be used, “algorithms will actually analyze behavior and physical data that should be protected.”

Roux said that the effectiveness of such automatic surveillance methods has not been proven. She said the context of the bill was important because it came against the backdrop of “a very clear intention by the French authorities over the course of a few years to expand police powers of surveillance.”

Amnesty International warned that the Games “should not serve as a pretext” for the exceptional measures to become permanent law.

Roux said there were examples of special event surveillance laws that were later used repressively, citing Russia’s implementation of facial recognition surveillance during the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Bastien Le Kerrec of La Quadrature du Net, a French data and privacy campaigning NGO, said the proposal to allow algorithmic video surveillance “seems to us particularly dangerous, disproportionate and creates a mass surveillance mechanism.”

He said that so far in France, CCTV required a “man behind a screen” analyzing CCTV footage, making it impossible to constantly monitor the entire public space. “But with the use of algorithms, this human limit no longer exists – one could constantly view all the images from video cameras, and in France there are several hundred thousand video cameras. This means that any person filmed can see how their behavior is analyzed, their movements are detected and classified, and the algorithm decides whether they are normal or abnormal.”

He said he feared the Olympics could be presented as a “political moment” for legislation to be passed that would otherwise be deemed unacceptable.

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