France set to test facial recognition security cameras

Security cameras that use facial recognition technology in public places could soon be tested in France by the government, a junior minister has said.

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The trial of the technology could last from “six months to one year, under the supervision of researchers”, said junior digital minister Cédric O, in an interview with Paris newspaper Le Parisien. No definite date for the trial has yet been set.

Mr O said: “This would allow us to get feedback on the different use cases and on the real-life performance of this technology, as well as answers on the questions being asked.”

The minister said that although the technology showed “evidence of advantages and opportunities”, he admitted that there were “also a certain number of risks to public freedoms” due to its use.

Currently, GDPR data laws forbid “the use of facial recognition without the consent of people who are submitted to it”. Only people who have given consent for their faces to be used may be recognised or have their information stored by the system.

Last week, representatives from 80 digital and data organisations, under the banner of l'Observatoire des Libertés et du Numérique, wrote an open letter calling for a ban on “facial recognition security” software, and notably called out the “Parafe” gates used by security forces in several airports and train stations.

The government is also seeking to roll out a “secure method” using similar technology, which would allow people to identify themselves to access certain services through the Alicem system ("authentification en ligne certifiée sur mobile", or “certified online mobile authentication”).

The creation of the app was authorised in May 2019, but the facial recognition aspect is still being tested. A solution may be available to the public “by mid-2021”, Mr O said.

Successful trials

Facial recognition cameras have already been tested successfully in Nice (Alpes-Maritimes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur), with the city’s surveillance unit reporting a 100% success rate during a trial in February this year. During the software’s use during the city’s Carnival, it successfully identified eight people who had volunteered their photos and consented to be recognised.

The Monaco-based artificial intelligence firm Confidentia, which is developing the technology, said that it could be used with “intelligent security cameras” that could even pick up when members of the public look angry or afraid, and flag it to authorities.

There are plans to trial the camera system on the city’s tram system, with mayor Christian Estrosi having denounced current security laws - which date back to 1978 and forbid further use of facial recognition - as “obsolete”.

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