French city warned over ‘intrusive’ use of CCTV to check number plates

The data protection authority issued an alert to Valenciennes in connection with its agreement with Chinese technology giant Huawei for plate recognition and image analysis systems

4 August 2021
Huawei CCTV camera security cam in a building. French city warned over ‘intrusive’ use of CCTV to check number plates

The warning from CNIL comes after the city signed an agreement with tech giant Huawei Pic: Champhei / Shutterstock

By Hannah Thompson

The northern French city of Valenciennes has been warned over its potential use of CCTV cameras, as the Huawei machines have a “particularly intrusive character”, France’s data protection authority CNIL has said.

The Nord city’s monitoring was confirmed by La Commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertés (CNIL) on August 3.

In a warning dated May 12, CNIL said: “[Valenciennes] concluded an agreement with the company Huawei, by which the company can give the city, free of charge, a fleet of high-definition cameras, deployed from April 2018, as well as three software programs for the automated analysis of images captured by the video protection system.”

An inspection from February 12, 2020 concluded that "an automated number plate reading device" as well as "assisted image analysis devices" had also been made available.

CNIL said that the numberplate reading “was, according to the information provided by the city authorities, intended to respond automatically to requests from law enforcement agencies". 

And yet, it said that this was illegal. 

The statement explained: "Automated number plate reading cannot be lawfully implemented by the municipality of Valenciennes in order to respond to requests from law enforcement agencies.”

Moreover, the use of assisted image analysis devices is "likely to give rise to a high risk for the rights and freedoms" of the public, it said.

The warning sent by CNIL is “not a public decision”, but is “intended to alert the managing department that the device intended to be used by the city does not comply with the laws on the protection of personal data”, it told the AFP.

The mairie of Valenciennes has not responded to AFP requests for comment.

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