PARIS (Reuters) – France’s National Assembly on Thursday authorized the use of artificial intelligence (AI) video surveillance during the Paris 2024 Olympics, ignoring warnings from civil rights groups that the technology poses a threat to civil liberties.
The government says algorithmic video surveillance can detect “predetermined events”, abnormal behavior and crowds, helping ensure the safety of millions of tourists expected to flood the French capital next summer.
With positive preliminary votes in the Senate and Parliament, the greatest legislative hurdles have been cleared, but could be challenged before the Supreme Constitutional Court.
If formally adopted, France would be the first country in the European Union to legalize AI-powered surveillance. That would set a worrying precedent for surveillance, a group of several dozen European lawmakers said last week.
Stephane Mazars, an MP for President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance Party, justified the technology, saying that “before the whole world, France must face the greatest security challenge in its history.”
The plan to use AI surveillance has met strong opposition from human rights groups such as Amnesty International and digital rights groups. They argue that technology poses a threat to civil liberties and draws a dangerous line in the sand.
The text was adopted in the 577-seat chamber by a majority of 59 votes to 17.
The debate in France comes as the European Union debates its own AI law, a landmark piece of EU legislation to regulate the use of artificial intelligence in Europe that has been in the works for over two years.
In addition to corporate use of AI, EU legislation will also address the use of AI in the public sector and law enforcement.
The French data protection authority CNIL supports the French government’s draft law on the condition that no biometric data will be processed. Supporters of the bill say it will, but privacy experts are skeptical.
“You can do two things: object recognition or analysis of human behavior — the latter is processing biometrics,” said Daniel Leufer, policy adviser at digital rights organization Access Now, which campaigns for banning the collection of biometrics in public spaces in the AI law of the EU.
Ruling party lawmaker Sacha Houlie, leader of the parliament’s legal affairs committee, told the House of Commons that AI could help prevent the 2016 Nice attack by identifying the movements of a truck used to plow through a crowd as suspicious have. The technology could also have helped avert the mass chaos at last year’s Champions League final in Paris, he said.
Both the Senate and the Assembly have now approved the bill. A committee of the common chamber will seek a compromise on any differences in the text that they agreed on during the debate.
Access Now’s Leufer questioned the usefulness of AI in detecting potential attackers because training algorithms for rare incidents is complex.
“AI isn’t good at stuff like that because on a technical level you have to give a lot of examples to a machine,” he said.
Reporting by Layli Foroudi; Edited by Richard Lough and Richard Chang
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