The French Senate seeks to protect itself against biometric surveillance – with a biometric surveillance sandbox

The French Senate’s law commission has published a contradictory report on biometrics that aims to both ensure that France does not become a country of mass biometric surveillance, while recommending a three-year regulatory sandbox to test the biometric mass surveillance systems. A period that would include the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics.

Adopted unanimously by Senate Law Commission ahead of publication, reports public senatethe “information report” was conducted throughout its eight-month drafting mission by three senators who were members of the Commission.

In the publicly available summary of “Biometric recognition in public spaces: 30 proposals to eliminate the risk of [becoming] a surveillance company” (“Biometric recognition in the public space: 30 proposals to eliminate the risk of a surveillance society‘), seems contradictory from the outset:

“In October 2020, the Senate Law Committee set up a fact-finding mission on facial recognition, a technology that is developing rapidly thanks to learning algorithms and which is polarizing public opinion between supporters of a moratorium on all biometric technologies, which would be inherently harmful. to freedoms, and those who highlight their significant potential benefits.

“At a time when legislation on artificial intelligence is being drafted at European level, it is essential to build a collective response to the use of biometric recognition technologies so as not to be, in the years to come come, overtaken by industrial developments.”

Proposal 1 sets the stage for consulting the French public to find ways to convince them to accept more biometric surveillance:

“Undertake a national survey aimed at evaluating the perception of biometric recognition by the French, identifying the use cases to which they are more or less favorable and identifying the sources of better acceptability of this technology.

Propositions 2 to 6 are the “red lines” to remove the risk of becoming a surveillance society.

Yet there are exceptions to almost all of the proposed biometric surveillance bans: no categorization by ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation – except for scientific research; no analysis of emotion – except for scientific research; no live facial recognition in public spaces – except for law enforcement in some cases.

Then by proposition 7, the gloves come off:

“Fix in an experimental law, for a period of three years, the conditions and purposes under which biometric recognition can be the subject of new experiments by public actors or in the public space and provide detailed annual reports to Parliament on its application, the last of which no later than six months before the end of the trial period.

Proposal 8 would require submission to an ethics council before proposal 9 will then make the French aware of the benefits and risks of three years of surveillance. By proposal 11, the senators suggest that private actors can submit their technologies for biometric surveillance of public places to the authorization of the CNIL, the data privacy regulator.

The list goes on to the ever-larger surveillance society the report ostensibly seeks to avoid. Proposal 16: “Create, on an experimental basis, a legal framework allowing the use of biometric authentication technologies to secure access to certain events and control flows [of people]based on people’s consent.

The report agrees that using biometric recognition to control access to a site without a non-biometric alternative would be terrible, but Proposition 17 introduces the exception for exactly this situation “on an experimental basis”. To be sure, Proposition 22 opens up real-time biometric street surveillance to secure events and sensitive sites.

Within the European context, the proposals support the creation of a European authority responsible for assessing the reliability of biometric recognition algorithms and certifying the absence of bias. To go further, they also intend to “provide the authority in charge of artificial intelligence with an image bank at European Union level in order to give it the means for its action.

“Feed this database through several mechanisms inspired by the proposed European Union regulation on European data governance. Put in place suitable mechanisms for informing citizens and provide for the possibility of requesting the withdrawal of their data from the database at any time.

The report includes guarantees such as the fight against bias in AI and the strengthening of the CNIL’s regulatory powers. However, the proposals for a three-year experimentation period, and the explicit mention of the 2024 Olympics as an event to be protected, reveal the orientation of the reflection of the law commission of the upper house of the French government.

Article topics

AI | biometric identification | biometrics | data protection | facial recognition | France | law enforcement | confidentiality | regulation | video surveillance

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