a Senate report recommends experimenting with facial recognition for a period of three years, and draws red lines on the use of this technology


In France, the debate on the use, or not, of facial recognition in the public space continues and a new report on the subject has just been published. On Wednesday, Senators Marc-Philippe Daubresse, Arnaud de Belenet and Jrme Durain presented the conclusions of their report which includes 30 proposals to avert the risk of a surveillance society. The senators say they are against a surveillance company, but propose “to experiment with facial recognition for 3 years on restricted, controlled and supervised cases”. The test results should establish a legal basis for the use of this technology.

In the eyes of many, the report of the three senators could seem ambivalent. Entitled “biometric recognition in the public space: 30 proposals to avert the risk of a surveillance society”, the report, made on behalf of the law commission, chaired by Franois-Nol Buffet, lists 30 proposals for “a successful deployment”. facial recognition. Among the strengths of the report are proposals 3 and 7. Recommendation no. 3 proposes to prohibit the use of real-time remote biometric recognition in public spaces, with “very limited exceptions” (see proposal no. 22).

More specifically, the senators propose to clearly prohibit real-time remote biometric surveillance during demonstrations on public roads and around places of worship. They justify the very limited exceptions by the terrorist risk, the investigation of serious offenses which threaten or damage the physical integrity of persons and other real risks. At a press conference on Wednesday, the three rapporteurs insisted that they are against a surveillance society and that their work has helped to erect red lines on the use of biometric recognition.

With regard to recommendation no. 7, it recommends drawing up a law for experimenting with facial recognition over a period of three years. Set in an experimentation law, for a period of three years, the conditions and purposes for which biometric recognition may be the subject of new experiments by public actors or in spaces open to the public and provide for the submission of detailed annual reports to Parliament on its application, the last of which no later than six months before the end of the trial period, indicates recommendation no. 7 of the report.

Of course, the senators said that it was not a question of using facial recognition in a broad way, but “on a case-by-case basis, with geographical and time limitation”. It would be a law of experimentation on restricted, controlled and supervised cases, affirmed Jrme Durain. For his part, the Republican senator Marc-Philippe Daubresse declared: we are not going to compare in real time the 28,000 S files with 30,000 people entering a stadium! No supervision all the time and extensively. He added: “80% of our report is devoted to the red lines”, emphasizing that the report was voted “unanimously”.

Then, recommendations 8 and 9 of the senators’ report propose submitting these experiments to regular evaluation by a unique and independent scientific and ethical committee, whose reports will be made public. They add that alongside these experiments, information accessible to all should be provided on biometric recognition techniques, the benefits expected from them and the risks incurred in order to raise public awareness of their challenges. In addition, the report seems to want to avoid any risk for the French to find themselves in a social credit system as in the case of the Chinese.

The senators indeed proposed to establish in the law the cases where the development, marketing and use of biometric recognition techniques are prohibited, whether implemented by public or private actors (recommendation no. 2). In particular, the report identifies three specific cases:

  • social rating systems for people;
  • systems for categorizing people according to origin, religious or philosophical beliefs or sexual orientation, except for the purposes of scientific research and subject to appropriate safeguards;
  • emotion recognition systems, except for health or scientific research purposes and subject to appropriate safeguards.

In addition, recommendation no. 5 proposes confining the use of algorithms and biometric recognition identification technology, when deployed by exception, to a decision-making support role and providing for systematic human control. this is in addition to recommendation no. 6, which calls for ensuring the transparency of the use of biometric recognition technologies with regard to individuals by providing clear, understandable and easily accessible information. Furthermore, the report does not forget the CNIL (National Commission for Computing and Liberties) and assigns it a number of important roles.

The senators want to put the organization to work so that it can, if necessary, ensure the survival of the deployment of facial recognition and detect and prevent possible abuses. Thus, recommendations 10, 11, 12 and 13 deal with an a priori and a posteriori control regime. They look like this:

  • recommendation no. 10: submit the deployment of biometric recognition technologies by the public authorities to the authorization of the prefect in matters of administrative police or of a magistrate in matters of judicial police;
  • recommendation no. 11: subject the deployment of biometric recognition technologies by private actors in spaces accessible to the public to the authorization of the CNIL;
  • recommendation no. 12: provide for the inventory at national level of acts authorizing the deployment of biometric recognition technologies;
  • Recommendation No. 13: Strengthen the CNIL’s resources so that it can, if necessary with the assistance of the Digital Regulation Expertise Center (PEReN), monitor the deployment of biometric recognition techniques, detect any misappropriation of purpose or illegal uses of these technologies and penalize offenders.

About 19 other proposals are listed in the senators’ report. They cover points such as: “the distinction between biometric recognition technologies and related technologies”, “biometric authentication with a view to enabling secure access control”, “the use of biometric recognition by private actors based on the consent of users”, “the necessary creation of a European trusted third party”, “the removal of obstacles to research and development by setting up a stable and specific legal framework, and facilitating access to data sets for public research”, etc. .

Source: Senators Report Summary (PDF)

And you?

What is your opinion on the subject?
What do you think of the senators’ recommendations on the use of facial recognition?
Do you think these proposals guarantee the proper use of this technology and remove the risk of a surveillance society?

See as well

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France: the government is committed to launching a National Electronic Identity Card (CNIe) from 2021, the program is based on facial recognition via the Alicem application

France summons Clearview AI, the American company specializing in facial recognition, to delete its data, it has a period of two months to comply with the injunctions

Facial recognition used in China for everything from rubbish collection to distributing toilet paper rolls, survey finds citizens growing concerned

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