French High Court Supports Use of AI-Powered Surveillance Cameras for Paris Olympics
In a landmark decision, the French Constitutional Council has given its endorsement to the implementation of AI-powered surveillance cameras during the upcoming 2024 Paris Olympics. Despite concerns regarding privacy, the highest constitutional court in France ruled that certain provisions of a law pertaining to the Olympic and Paralympic Games of 2024 do not violate the right to privacy. The council emphasized that the development and execution of algorithmic processing will remain under human control, thereby ensuring the protection of individuals’ privacy.
The approval comes after intense debates in the French Parliament, which recently passed a controversial bill to enable the experimental use of large-scale, real-time camera systems equipped with advanced algorithms. These systems aim to identify suspicious activities, such as unattended luggage and potential crowd stampedes, by sounding alarms. The law will be in effect until March 2025; however, some left-leaning members of the Parliament expressed concerns that AI-powered surveillance cameras in Paris could infringe upon freedom of movement, the right to protest, freedom of expression, and the right to privacy.
Opponents of the law argued that its scope was overly broad and lacked sufficient guarantees that the algorithmic processing of images would be limited solely to the Olympic and Paralympic Games. They also raised concerns about the possibility of processing biometric data, even though the law explicitly prohibits such practices. Addressing these concerns, the court highlighted that the law already includes provisions specifying that the algorithmic processing of collected images should only serve the purpose of ensuring the safety of events with a high risk of terrorism or serious threats to personal safety. It emphasized that the use of data collected through AI is restricted to events that present a particular risk of public order breaches, rather than events that merely pose a risk to property.
To ensure objectivity, transparency, and accountability, the Constitutional Council stressed that the algorithmic processing employed must allow for the verification of criteria, data nature, and human control measures. It further emphasized the need for a risk management system to prevent and rectify any biases or misuse. Additionally, the court explicitly stated that the use of facial recognition techniques, biometric identification systems, and biometric data related to individuals’ unique identification is strictly prohibited under the law.
However, despite the court’s decision, a group of 40 predominantly left-leaning members of the European Parliament expressed their reservations in a letter to the French Parliament. They cautioned that passing the law in its current form would establish an unprecedented surveillance precedent in Europe, using the pretext of the Olympic Games. The letter argued that automated analysis of public behavior through CCTV cameras during large-scale events contradicts democratic values and impedes citizens’ freedom to exercise their rights and advocate for a just society. The group stressed the importance of aligning technological advancements with fundamental rights and values.
The approval of AI-powered surveillance cameras coincides with a period of significant unrest in France, characterized by widespread protests against pension reforms and President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to increase the retirement age. Critics argue that the country is already grappling with an expanding state surveillance apparatus while pointing to authoritarian China as the only nation that has fully embraced biometric mass surveillance of its population.