France becomes the first European country to legalize biometric surveillance 

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The article 7 of the Law on Olympic Games’ organization has been adopted by the national parliament, “Assemblée Nationale”, formalizing the introduction of Algorithmic Video-Surveillance in French Law, until December 2024. Due to the fuss regarding the retirements reform and following an expeditive-as-usual process, French government succeeded in making acceptable one of the most dangerous technology ever deployed. Using lies and fake storytellings, the government escaped from the technical, political and judicial consequences in terms of mass surveillance. Supported by MPs from the governmental majority and far-right parties, algorithmic video-surveillance has been legalized backed by lies, undermining always more the democratic game.

  • The lie of biometrics: government repeated and wrote down in the law that algorithmic video-surveillance is not related to biometrics. This is entirely false. This technology constantly identifies, analyzes, classifies the bodies, physical attributes, gestures, body shapes, gait, which are unquestionably biometric data. We already explained it (see our note or video), tirelessly told it to rapporteurs in the Sénat and Assemblée Nationale, the representatives, long with 38 other international organizations and more than 40 MEPs (members of European Parliament) who recently called out the French government. Despite, the French government stood with its lies, concerning technical as well as legal aspects. France is once again violating EU’s law, consecrating its title of Europe surveillance’s champion.
  • The lie of usefulness: government used the Olympic games as a pretext to achieve faster a long-running agenda consisting in legalizing these technologies. In fact, such choice is just keeping close to a “tradition” widely observed of States profiting from international mega-events to pass exceptional laws. The government convinced of the necessity to “spot suspicious packages” or “prevent massive crowd movements”. These events suddenly became the top priority for the Ministry of the Interior and some deputies, who resume the security of the Olympics to these only issues rarely identified before as a priority in casual times. Also, those issues can get a resolution more from human competences than technologies, as we’ve demonstrated in this article (in French). Algorithmic video-surveillance acceptance relies on a well implanted myth according to which technology would magically ensure security, and so, without any honest evaluation or demonstration of these very opaque technologies’ usefulness being made.
  • The technical lie: Algorithmic video-surveillance’s main application is to identify behaviors, previously defined as “suspect” by the police. Arbitrary and dangerous by design, the way these algorithms work has never been explained by the government: because it is not understood by most of those who decide… Inexcusable incompetence or assumed diversion, in the end, the level of the parlementary debate was extremely low, certainly not at what’s to expect regarding the dramatic issues raised by these biometric technologies. Helped by Guillaume Vuillemet and Sacha Houlié, both from the governmental party and some other MPs, what dominated was a minimization rethoric directly inspired from surveillance companies marketing narratives, along with lies and technical nonsense. It shows clearly the incapacity of the Parliament to discuss technical questions, and moreover how the society should legitimately fear the future to come, considering how our representatives are unable to apprehend the threats of the next emerging technologies.

As police brutalities overwhelm our screens, and as the police, armed with clubs, assures the after-sales service of the most impopular reforms, the increasing police surveillance participates to a global strategy to stifle any contestation.

These tactics allowing the State to transform the reality of its surveillance prerogatives must be denounced. Particularly in a context where the meaning of words are deliberately twisted to make us believe that “surveillance is protection”, that “security is freedom”, and “democracy is a forcing through”. It is necessary to expose and counter this fake democratic game, and to ever question the extraordinary powers given to the French police. No need to talk about a “Chinese” dystopia to realize the height of the stakes. Better look in France’s history and present political climate to take the measure and understand the twenty years long security drift : always more cameras, surveillance and databases, while depoliticizing social stakes, and a loss of sense amongst politics in charge. As a result, the Olympics’ law debates shed the light on the political disorientation of decision-makers, unable to question these security issues.

This first legalization of automated video-surveillance is a winning step for French security industry. Those who’ve been asking for years to test their algorithms on the people, to improve them and sell the technologies worldwide, are now satisfied. Soon, Thales, XXII, Two-I and Neuroo, will be allowed to sell biometric softwares to other states, like Idemia sold its facial recognition software to China. The startup XXII couldn’t even wait the law to be voted to loudly announce it raised 22 million euros to become, in its own words, “the European leader” of algorithmic video-surveillance.

The institutions in charge of preserving liberties, such as the CNIL, are totally failing. Created in 1978 gifted with real and efficient counter powers to document the governmental surveillance ambitions, it is now the after-sales service of governmental regulations and carefully helps companies to implement a “good” surveillance, in order to preserve the industry’s economical interests, without any consideration about collective rights and liberties.
This first legal authorization creates a precedent and opens the gates to every other biometric surveillance technologies: algorithmic audio-surveillance, facial recognition, biometric tracking…

We won’t give up the fight and will keep denouncing all the government’s lies, we’ll be present as soon as the first experimentation will start and document the inevitable abuses these technologies lead to. We will find ways to contest them in courts and will fight for these experimentation to remain temporary and prevent making them durable. And we’ll keep refusing these technologies and the Technopolice they incorporate, by fighting at a European level to obtain their interdiction.

So if you want to help us in this struggle, stay tuned for what we’ll be up to in the month to come and if you can, you can donate to our organization!

Translated by Kholah