Biometric Recognition: The Senate wants an adaptive legal framework

The Senate Law Commission released an information report on the use of biometric recognition in public spaces on Wednesday. It calls for a rigid framework for the technology and restricts it to a few uses that are of national security concern for which the technology can be used.

Reporters recommend a trial law for three years. This framework would make it possible to define “the purposes for which biometric recognition may be the subject of new tests by public actors or in open spaces to the public”.

Experiments have been made in the past, such as on the Nice or Paris Metro during the Cowid Crisis, but neither was intended to be permanent.

The technology is preserved in exceptional cases

Among the permitted exceptions, reporters distinguish between two situations: biometric detection “a posterior” or “in real time”. In the case of posterior identification, the mission proposes to allow the use of biometrics in police files within the framework of judicial investigations or intelligence activities. It encourages the use of these techniques on an experimental basis to search for potential victims of criminal or serious crime as well as to identify the desired individuals.

Regarding real-time biometric identification, senators noted that it has a “particularly exceptional” character. The mission provides three exceptions in the context of judicial investigations, aimed at protecting key events or sensitive areas against terrorist threats in the administrative structure and, ultimately, in the event of an impending threat to national security.

CNIL will be systematically consulted on any recommendations for the use of senators, public and private use. They recommend that the role of CNIL be redefined, so that it can play the role of “biometric recognition police member” and manage a posterior control of its uses.

In addition, in order to maintain an overall view of the use of biometric recognition techniques, rapporteurs recommend compiling a national list of each approval obtained.

Red line

If the report limits a framework for future scrutiny, the Senate Law Commission would first and foremost set a “red line” outside of which “no use of biometric recognition can be accepted”, the senators hammer. At a news conference on Wednesday, reporters made it clear that this was “not always a question of general surveillance,” but “a limited number of specific cases.” Reporters oppose, for example, the use of simple recognition near a demonstration on a public highway or near a place of worship.

The report cites four formal bans: bans on social ratings, bans on classifying individuals according to personal criteria, bans on emotional analysis, and bans on real-time remote biometric surveillance in public spaces.

The senators also stressed that the principle of support must apply: this means that biometric recognition should only be used as a last resort, when no other technology is relevant.

Senators have warned against the proliferation of image processing devices without the use of biometric data, such as the identification of discarded objects. To this day, there is no legal framework for processing images from public roads based on artificial intelligence, they recall. Reporters consider that the application of AI from video surveillance to images therefore constitutes a “scale change in the use of video surveillance”, which may infringe on personal freedom.

Olympics ahead

Of course, the deadline for the 2024 Olympics is a concern that the Senate is particularly sensitive to. According to law commission reporters, facial recognition technology could be used to monitor the organization of this large sporting event.

However, this is not the case now. Cedric O., Secretary of State for Digital Transitions, indicated during an earlier hearing before the Senate that the 2024 Olympics could be held without face recognition. However, the matter has not been settled for sure.

With future EU regulations on the control of artificial intelligence, French senators, while preparing the ground for possible national legislation, have acknowledged the need to think about technological sovereignty on a European scale. In the report, they specifically recommend delegating the task of assessing the reliability of biometric recognition algorithms and verifying the absence of bias to a “European authority”.

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