“As the 2024 Olympics approach, we must experiment with biometric recognition in public space”

FIGAROVOX / TRIBUNE- For Vincent Berthet and Léo Amsellem, the implementation of a law to experiment with this technology, as recommended by the Senate, would answer the questions of security and digital sovereignty.

Vincent Berthet is an associate professor at the University of Lorraine and associate researcher at the Sorbonne Center for Economics. He is the author of To fail is human, at the limits of rationality
(CNRS Editions, 2018; Biblis, 2021).

Léo Amsellem is a political scientist, graduated from Sciences Po Paris, the Sorbonne and the London School of Economics.

They publish together The new oracles. How algorithms predict crime (CNRS Editions, 2021).


Recent events at the Stade de France during the Champions League final have called into question France’s ability to ensure security at the 2024 Olympics. For those in Tokyo 2020, the Japanese authorities had installed the security device that was the most expensive in the history of the Olympics. Games that included technological solutions such as face recognition, virtual law enforcement, and early crime detection programs. It’s France’s turn to address the issue of AI technologies in terms of security. This reflection, imposed by the prospect of Paris 2024, is a deadline not to be missed, under penalty of watching France and Europe lag behind in the development of these technologies, occupied by world leaders in artificial intelligence, in cutting edge, including the United States and China.

The proliferation of these technologies on a large scale has always been the subject of serious reservations and criticism, especially in France, but also on a European scale, as evidenced by the vote on a European Parliament resolution in October 2021 with a view to imposing a moratorium. for face recognition technologies on the grounds that they are imperfect and pose an excessive risk to liberties. Does this principled position hold the test of reality when it comes to ensuring the safety of athletes, delegations and millions of spectators?

The challenge is to come up with French and European solutions that are soluble in our rule of law, and the only way to do that is through experiments.

Vincent Berthet and Leo Amsellem

Last November, we published a column highlighting the dangers of such a position: firm on strict respect for civil liberties, it closes the door to a risk-benefit analysis
even more capable of establishing a reasoned and pragmatic choice. Faced with the – real – risks associated with these technologies, the challenge is to bring French and European solutions that are soluble in our rule of law, and the only way to do this is through experiments.

Last May, the Senate unveiled the report of an information mission on biometric recognition in public space. In line with the AI ​​proposal of 21 April
2021 by the European Commission, the authors of the report outline the path to a pragmatic compromise freed from an ideology that would obscure the difficult equation between security
and freedom; between innovation and regulation. With regard to these difficult but essential issues in the Social Contract 2.0, we must welcome the fact that Parliament expresses a clear position and manages to be passionate without depoliticising a very divisive issue, without compromising the requirements of public liberties. .

This law will make it possible on a trial basis to allow certain forms of face identification in real time, such as securing particularly sensitive locations during major events in the face of a terrorist threat.

Vincent Berthet and Leo Amsellem

Senators rightly point out that the legal vacuum currently prevailing around these technologies does not in fact protect anyone, and that a three-year law on experiments, accompanied by a public and independent evaluation procedure, is likely to create the fruitful framework that a French position could take shape. This law would allow
to allow, on a trial basis, certain real-time facial identification practices, such as securing particularly sensitive locations during major events in the face of a terrorist threat, or even monitoring a person who has just committed a serious offense. It would still be a matter, subsequently, whether to allow the intelligence services to implement face recognition systems to identify a wanted person or to reconstruct their journey.

In this context, it should be recalled that a study conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan in 2013 showed that a face recognition algorithm could quickly identify the perpetrators of the attack on
Boston Marathon as it had taken police several days to do so. In 2005, following the London attacks, British police had to watch 6,000 hours of footage from surveillance cameras. A process that would benefit from being automated, after experimentation and evaluation.

The experiments, encouraged by the Senate report, are a first step towards a capacity to develop our own AI solutions.

Vincent Berthet and Leo Amsellem

If it is urgent to anchor a French and European position, it is also to take a fundamental action of our digital sovereignty. In the absence of superior AI solutions, we have
clean hands, but we have no hands, and are forced, when an emergency is over to remove our reluctance, to rely on foreign solutions that are less suited to our choices
democratic. The experiments, encouraged by the Senate report, are a first step towards a capacity to develop our own AI solutions.

Faced with new security challenges, we can now prefer expectation over procrastination, which can lead us to urgency or even to some form of submission. As public action requires control, any reinforcement of the State Monitoring Arsenal must be accompanied by an equal strengthening of guarantees in order to avoid any excessive or disproportionate use. With CNIL, France already has an expert and demanding institution that would benefit from being strengthened by legislation to make it a veritable policeman for biometric recognition. Only with this method of mixing experiments, innovation and democratic control will we be able to unleash the full range of possibilities
offered by new technologies while anticipating their possible negative effects.

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