30 suggestions to eliminate the risk of a surveillance society

Ban real-time facial recognition in public spaces while allowing a series of tightly monitored experiments over three years

The Senate considers that it is becoming increasingly urgent to “build a collective response to the use biometric recognition technologies in public space in order not to be overtaken by industrial development in the coming years”. The debates seem to oppose only those who want to ban everything to those who believe that biometric recognition should be generalized in public space. Its deployments on the national territory, very few, “carried out today in France without a specific legal framework or collective ethical reflection”says the report.

Among the biometric techniques intended to “recognize an individual based on their physical, physiological or behavioral characteristics”, that of facial recognition raises the most debate. First of all, facial recognition should be differentiated according to whether it is used to authenticate or identify. Both operate from a person’s face “first captured and transformed into a computer model called a template” which then, thanks to an artificial intelligence algorithm, is either compared with the pre-established template used by the person presenting himself – and facial recognition is used here to authenticate himself – or with other templates listed in databases – and facial recognition is then used to identify (see Strap No. 52, p. 106).

Facial recognition for authentication is widely used, for example as a function to unlock a smartphone or since 2010 passenger screening services by air, sea and train using “Initial” (for rapid automated crossing of external borders), software that without all data , which are stored, are compared “the image contained in the electronic component of the presented travel document and the image taken live by the holder of the holder inside a passage lock”. “Face recognition implemented as part of a real-time remote identification system in publicly accessible spaces” is one of the red lines that would allow“remove the risk of a surveillance society”unless it is deployed in connection with specially supervised experiments.

The only experiment on a large scale was tested on a voluntary basis during the carnival in Nice between February and March 2019. Regarding the uses that were carried out without the consent of the people, the internal security services (the National Police, the National Gendarmerie and the Customs) are increasingly using a reconciliation mechanism using photographs in the criminal record (TAJ), which is only possible “in connection with a judicial investigation, under the direction and control of a judge”. This facial recognition tool to identify people in the TAJ file was used 498,871 times by the National Police and about 117,000 times by the National Gendarmerie in 2021. For North Senator Marc-Philippe Daubresse, whose comments are reported on the public Senate website, “We cannot enter into a surveillance society with Big Brother everywhere. And on the other hand, we must accept that we can experiment with a certain number of use cases that can be linked to terrorism, the protection of major sports sites or the need for the police to check that the person in front of her. is not registered in the crime file”.

In particular, the report recommends banning the use of real-time remote biometric recognition in public spaces. Except for very limited exceptions, especially in connection with legal investigations in connection with a serious offence, or in a “administrative framework with a view to securing major events that present a particular sensitivity or particularly sensitive locations in light of a possible terrorist threat”and “in an intelligence framework, in case of imminent threats to national security”.

The senators are therefore calling for their wishes “the development of an experimental law to generate debate and determine what uses of facial recognition are relevant before proceeding with another law, what would be”. Although Cédric O, then Secretary of State for Digital Transition, indicated during a Senate hearing in March 2022 that the security features of the 2024 Olympics may not include real-time facial recognition in public spaces, the question is always asked. As for the European Commission’s new rules on artificial intelligence published in April 2022, they also confirm the ban on the use of real-time biometric identification systems in public spaces, while providing some exceptions.

Biometric recognition in public space: 30 proposals to eliminate the risk of a surveillance society, Senate, information report, Marc-Philippe Daubresse, Arnaud de Belenet and Jérôme Durain, May 2022

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