18th May 2023 – (Paris) France’s top constitutional court has approved the use of AI-powered surveillance cameras for the upcoming 2024 Paris Summer Olympics, but has also given guidelines for their implementation. The court’s decision stated that the legislation allowing the new measures does not infringe upon privacy rights because it ensures permanent human control over “the development, implementation and possible evolution of algorithmic processing.”
In April, the French parliament passed a controversial bill that allows the experimental use of large-scale, real-time camera systems supported by algorithms to spot suspicious behaviour, including unsupervised luggage and crowd movements like stampedes, for the Olympics. The system will be in place until March 2025.
The Constitutional Council‘s decision to greenlight the plan is a setback for privacy campaigners who oppose AI-powered mass surveillance, as well as for French left-leaning lawmakers who had challenged the text in court.
According to the court, the system aims to “prevent public order offences,” which aligns with the constitution. The cameras will only be deployed during sports, recreational, or cultural events that are at high risk of becoming targets for terror attacks. The council also clarified that the cameras will not use facial recognition. Furthermore, public authorities will need to ensure that no biometric surveillance is needed to monitor the events, and that footage and data collected through the cameras are not linked to other databases.
The court has mandated that state representatives can only allow the deployment of cameras for purposes designated under the law and must immediately end usage if the law’s conditions are no longer met. Public authorities will need to clearly state who is responsible for processing personal data, which event will be monitored, as well as why, where, and for how long. Individual decisions to use the system can be challenged in court.
The French government has welcomed the court’s decision, which paves the way for the use of AI-powered surveillance cameras during the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics, subject to strict guidelines and regulations.