This month, French lawmakers are expected to pass legislation for the Olympic Games Paris 2024which, for the first time in France’s history, will allow mass video surveillance powered by artificial intelligence (AI) systems.
When governments slide down the slippery slope toward expanding surveillance powers, it has devastating consequences for fundamental human rights, including the right to privacy, equality and non-discrimination, as well as freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Under the guise of ensuring security and fighting terrorism, French authorities will be able to track the movements of millions of people from all over the world, whether they are on their way to or near stadiums, or use the public transportation that connects the buildings to or from the site of the major sporting event.
The need for security during the game is understandable, but transparency and legal justification are needed every step of the way. Any proposal in the field of security must respect fundamental rights. International human rights law still applies to the Olympic Games and a thorough review of such measures is vital.
So far, the bill fails to show how such AI-powered video surveillance will comply with human rights standards. The French government has failed to demonstrate how the measures comply with the principle of proportionality and what safeguards will be put in place to avoid a permanent surveillance infrastructure, such as privacy protection measures, strict restrictions and purpose limitations, and data minimization.
This is a pernicious, widespread application of AI-driven mass surveillance that cannot be justified. The human rights threats posed by the development and use of AI by private companies and government agencies in the European Union are well documented. The technology is used to the detriment of marginalized groups, including migrants, and black and brown people. In a open letter At the initiative of the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law, 38 civil society organisations, including Amnesty International, have called on French policymakers to reject the draft law that would allow invasive surveillance, as it would pose a huge threat to fundamental rights and freedoms.
The draft legislation would subject spectators en route to sporting events in Paris to unwarranted surveillance, from ubiquitous fixed CCTV cameras to drones set to detect “abnormal or suspicious” activity in crowds. Such overly broad definitions should be challenged, and we should ask ourselves some pressing questions: who sets the standard for what is ‘normal’? Officials monitoring indications of “abnormal or suspicious” activity also have the power to exacerbate a chilling effect on dissent and protests, as well as fuel discrimination against already targeted communities.
States have used major sporting events to enact and embed a panopticon of surveillance measures, pushing societies toward an Orwellian dystopia. While French authorities claim this is a short-term experimental move, Amnesty International fears that this bill will silently expand mass surveillance and police powers permanently in France.
The London 2012 Olympic Games is a vivid example of how states have used major sporting events to install and expand intrusive, permanent, and oppressive surveillance measures. In 2017, during the UEFA Champions League final in Cardiff, South Wales police used facial recognition cameras and falsely 2,000 people spotted as possible criminals, showing how intrusive and unreliable such measures are.
At Amnesty International, we have extensively documented how thousands of CCTV cameras have been with facial recognition deployed all over New York City – most of them in communities of color and reinforcing racially discriminatory policing. The technology has led to harassment of Black Lives Matter protesters and wrongful arrests of predominantly black residents.
This bill is not only a dangerous step with regard to privacy and human rights, but it also betrays the spirit of the European Union (EU) AI law – a globally important piece of legislation that aims to regulate AI and respect fundamental rights. protect the EU, of which France is an influential member.
France’s plan to introduce such dizzying measures during the Olympics could shape how AI systems and mass surveillance are regulated and governed in the EU. Amnesty International believes that the EU, through negotiations on the AI law, should end rampant, abusive and discriminatory practices based on artificial intelligence, including the use of all facial recognition systems used for mass surveillance.
Along with a coalition of civil society actors campaigning for a human rights-compliant European AI regulation, Amnesty International has called for a complete ban on facial recognition technologies that enable mass and discriminatory surveillance, as well as systems that categorize people based on of protected characteristics or gender identity. We have also called for the banning of emotion recognition systems that claim to infer people’s emotions and mental states, given the lack of scientific validity of these technologies and their extreme intrusiveness.
As an EU member state, France would have to comply with EU AI regulations. This new bill will directly conflict French law with pending EU law. Meanwhile, as an influential member state, France is trying to lower the bar that the EU AI law aims to set for the protection of human rights.
If France continues to legalize mass surveillance at the national level, one of the biggest sporting events in the world risks becoming one of the most significant privacy violations worldwide.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial view of Al Jazeera.