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French Senate votes in favor of public facial recognition pilot

French Senate votes in favor of public facial recognition pilot

The French Senate voted on Monday to adopt a draft law on testing facial recognition technology in public spaces. The law will allow judicial investigators and intelligence services to use remote biometric identification in public for three years.

The draft law was adopted amid opposition from human rights organizations and certain politicians with 226 votes in favor and 177 votes against from left-wing senators, Le Monde reports.

In May, the Senate tried to quell public concerns by promising to set limits on the use of the technology and “prevent a surveillance society.”

The new draft specifies that real-time facial recognition use in public will be limited to tracking down terrorists by intelligence services, child abductions and particularly serious crimes. In the latter two cases, judicial investigators will need to seek out authorization from the Prime Minister, prosecutor or examining judge which will only be valid for 48 hours.

Retrospective use of facial recognition, i.e. on recorded videos, will be authorized for terrorism and serious crime investigations by the prosecutor or examining judge. Authorization in cases of terrorism will last for one month.

Facial recognition use in public spaces is not the only topic that local lawmakers were debating in the past month. In May, the French top constitutional court cleared the way for the algorithmic processing of video feeds during the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics and Paralympics. The system is meant to detect suspicious items and behavior such as unsupervised luggage and dangerous crowd movements and includes safeguards against collecting biometric data.

Face biometrics are already used by government agencies in France in applications such as the border control system Parafe and the digital identity app Alicem. Cities such as Nice have also experimented with facial recognition for surveillance during the Nice Carnival, an event that attracts thousands of tourists to the city every year.

A ban on real-time facial recognition in the EU’s draft AI Act does not include carve-outs for terrorism or missing persons searches, setting up a possible clash between French and EU law.

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