AI Surveillance for 2024 Olympics: Safeguarding the future while maintaining privacy

As Paris gears up for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, France’s deployment of AI-driven surveillance technology underscores a commitment to safety while navigating the challenges of privacy and ethics.

Ahead of the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Paris, France has initiated a project to test and deploy video surveillance technology powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI). This initiative, aimed at enhancing security during the global event, has seen the introduction of AI-enabled cameras at concerts and other large gatherings as a preliminary trial of the capabilities of these technologies.

At the heart of this surveillance upgrade is the Cityvision software, developed by the French company Wintics. It utilises AI algorithms trained to detect specific types of suspicious activity or potential danger. These algorithms are designed to identify the presence of weapons, signs of fire, individuals lying on the ground, and abandoned packages. Furthermore, the system is configured to monitor crowd behaviour closely, alerting to instances of mass movement, unauthorised entry into restricted areas, overcrowding, and movement against the designated flow of traffic.

The decision to implement AI-assisted surveillance was made last spring when France’s top constitutional court approved the use of algorithmic video feed processing for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, provided it undergoes thorough testing. It’s important to note, however, that this advanced surveillance excludes facial recognition technology, reflecting a compromise designed to address privacy concerns raised by critics and advocacy groups. The legislation outlines that this technology is strictly limited to sports and cultural events where there’s a potential threat of terrorism, ensuring a focused application of its surveillance capabilities.

The surveillance programme is not indefinite; it is set to expire on March 31, 2025, following the closure of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, signaling France’s approach to balancing security needs with privacy rights.

These developments have not been without controversy. The introduction of the surveillance legislation has attracted criticism from multiple groups, such as data rights bodies and European Parliament members, who have raised concerns about privacy violations and the risk that automated surveillance could result in discriminatory practices. Despite these objections, supporters of the legislation assert that it includes sufficient protections to adhere to regulations set by both France and the European Union. They highlight that the bill restricts the provision of surveillance technology exclusively to companies that store data within France.

As the 2024 Olympic Summer Games approach, these AI-driven surveillance tests represent a critical step towards securing the event, showcasing France’s commitment to employing technology in the fight against potential threats while navigating the complex terrain of privacy and ethical considerations​​​​.

To address concerns around privacy and civil liberties with the AI-driven surveillance technology, France has taken significant steps to ensure the ethical use of this technology. Notably, French authorities have emphasised their commitment to not use facial recognition technology as part of this surveillance, upholding a firm position on privacy and data protection. This approach is designed to prevent any “mission creep” that could extend the technology’s use in unintended ways.

To oversee the responsible use of this technology, France’s Ministry of the Interior has established an evaluation committee. This committee consists of of distinguished members, including a high-ranking official from France’s top administrative court, the head of France’s privacy commission CNIL, four lawmakers, and a mayor. Their role is to monitor the implementation of the AI surveillance technology closely, ensuring that it adheres to France’s strict privacy standards and does not compromise civil liberties. This committee’s formation demonstrates France’s proactive stance in balancing the need for advanced security measures with the imperative to protect individual rights and freedoms.

These measures highlight France’s comprehensive approach to using advanced surveillance technology in a way that respects privacy and civil liberties. By setting clear restrictions on the use of facial recognition, establishing reliable oversight mechanisms, and focusing on detecting actions and behaviors rather than personal identities, France aims to ensure that the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games can be both safe and respectful of the rights of all participants and visitors.

Photo credit: All rights reserved – Ugo Gattoni – Paris 2024

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