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Paris prepare for Olympics with AI surveillance amid privacy concerns

As Paris gears up for the Olympics, AI surveillance sparks controversy about privacy among critics, while authorities stand firm.

Paris prepare for Olympics with AI surveillance amid privacy concerns

With over 10,000 athletes and nearly 15 million attendees expected in Paris this summer, the prospect of being kept under AI based surveillance has received sharp criticisms from various stakeholders.


The Bridge Desk

Updated: 13 Jun 2024 5:30 AM GMT

With the city of Paris gearing up for the Olympics, the French government plans to implement AI surveillance throughout the city. They are currently testing the AI surveillance systems at train stations, concerts, and football matches.

The government has selected four companies—Videtics, Orange Business, ChapsVision, and Wintics—for security, using eight key metrics: traffic against the flow, presence of people in prohibited zones, crowd movement, abandoned packages, presence or use of weapons, overcrowding, a body on the ground, and fire.

The AI-powered security software employs computer algorithms to analyze real-time images from security cameras and is trained to recognize and send alerts when unusual behavior is detected.

This software has already undergone testing at a football match between Ligue-1 clubs Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique Lyon, during the Cannes Film Festival, and at a Taylor Swift concert.

Benefits of an AI Surveillance System

During the Olympic Games, the cameras will feature advanced technology and an additional layer of artificial intelligence to enhance video surveillance capabilities. This system will utilize probability analysis to recognize individuals based on factors like age, body shape, or gender, and it will be able to identify specific incidents or events such as crowd movements, as well as accurately identify individuals through biometric data.

The applications for this technology are diverse, spanning both the public sector (police, crowd assessment in public spaces, etc.) and the private sector (audience statistics, premises security, etc.).

Officials believe that this technology could be crucial in preventing incidents like the bombing at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta or the Nice truck attack in 2016.

However, with over 10,000 athletes and nearly 15 million attendees expected in Paris this summer, the prospect of extensive surveillance has drawn sharp criticism from various stakeholders.

Privacy concerns

The criticism about privacy and being under surveillance at all times has made French lawmakers ban facial recognition and rather focus on abnormal events, crowd movements, abandoned objects, or situations suggesting the committing of an offense, noting “It’s a red line not to be crossed”.

“Re-stocking security apparatus with AI-driven mass surveillance is a dangerous political project which could lead to broad violations of human rights. Every action in a public space will get sucked into a dragnet of surveillance infrastructure, undermining fundamental civic freedoms,” said Agnes Callamard, Secretary General of the Amnesty International, a human rights group.

“These overly broad definitions set by officials to categorize ‘suspicious’ and ‘abnormal’ activities in crowds are highly concerning. We must ask ourselves some urgent questions: Who sets the norm for what is ‘normal’? Officials who control the designations of ‘abnormal or suspicious’ activities in societies also have the power to exacerbate a chilling effect on dissent and protest, and to supercharge discrimination against communities already targeted," she added.

To address privacy concerns, France's Interior Ministry has established an evaluation committee comprising a high-ranking official from the top administrative court, the head of the privacy watchdog (CNIL), four lawmakers, and a mayor. This committee will oversee the trial period, ensuring the protection of civil liberties.

When utilized appropriately, these new technologies can offer crucial safety and security data, including the capacity to identify and examine only the video where an event might have happened, protecting all kinds of big events.

They can also use intelligence insights to improve the fan experience during large-scale events, such as advising guests to bypass lines at entryways, exits, tickets, stadium stands, and other facilities.

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