June 9, 2023

French court’s approval of Olympics AI surveillance plan fuels privacy concerns | Surveillance

France’s top constitutional court has sanctioned the controversial use of surveillance powered by artificial intelligence at next year’s Olympics in a blow to privacy campaigners.

The French court’s decision came two months after the national assembly approved laws allowing for the experimental use of hi-tech surveillance in an attempt to head off any trouble at the Games next summer, when 600,000 people are expected to attend.

The new rules allow automated video camera surveillance, in which AI algorithms scanning real-time images would be used to detect suspicious activity including crowd surges and unsupervised luggage.

Concerns were heightened by the chaos at last year’s Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid at the Stade de France, where fans including children were teargassed, and many supporters complained they were mugged.

In agreeing to limited use of AI at the Olympics, France’s constitutional council said the new measures, which are experimental, could only be deployed at sports, recreational or cultural events in the fight to “prevent public order offences”. The law will be in place until March 2025.

It will make France the first country within the EU to allow the use of AI-powered surveillance, despite strong opposition from 38 rights groups, which described the proposals as “a dangerous precedent for other European countries”.

In an open letter, groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Big Brother Watch said the proposals constituted “a serious threat to civic freedoms and democratic principles”.

They also raised concerns the cameras would inadvertently be able to capture movements such as “body positions, gait, gestures” that could be used to identify individuals in a measure they said “threatens the very essence of the right to privacy and data protection”.

The decision by France, now backed by the courts, to press ahead means there could be a dispute over the final shape of the EU’s proposed artificial intelligence act.

A committee of MEPS scrutinising the legislation voted to support a group of 12 amendments last week, including a total ban on real-time facial recognition.

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The full European parliament is due to vote on the amendments in June before the legislation goes through a further finetuning stage with the European Commission and member states.

The French government welcomed the court’s decision and said it would enable it to refine the structures around next year’s Games.