Security cameras with Olympic Games logo

France to trial AI surveillance technology at 2024 Olympic Games, despite concerns

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France has approved the use of large-scale, real-time camera systems supported by artificial intelligence (AI) technology during the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

France has passed a controversial bill to trial AI-based surveillance cameras at the 2024 Olympic Games, despite the opposition of human rights activists. 

The bill, focused on ensuring security at the Games, included an article which allowed the use of AI-powered camera systems to spot suspicious behaviour in real-time to detect "events likely to pose or reveal a risk" of "terrorist acts or serious breaches of security". 

However, the bill has been opposed by politicians and activists. Last week, around 40 mostly left-leaning members of the European Parliament said the plan "creates a surveillance precedent never before seen in Europe", according to reports by Le Monde

Even before the debates started, members of parliament had already filed 770 amendments to the bill, many aimed at Article Seven, which covers video recorded by existing surveillance systems or new ones to be "processed by algorithms".

International digital rights organisations have also opposed the bill, including France’s La Quadrature du Net (QDN), Amnesty International and Access Now. They pointed out that the bill could be in breach of the EU’s Artificial Intelligence Act currently under discussion in Brussels – which could limit biometric surveillance.

"It's classic for the Olympic Games to be used to pass things that wouldn't pass in normal times," QDN activist Naomi Levain told AFP. 

If passed, the law would make the 2024 Olympics "a shop window and a laboratory for security", handing firms an opportunity to test systems and gather training data for their algorithms, Levain said.

Amnesty International called the measure "draconian" and warned it could lead to "dystopian levels of surveillance in the future". 

The government has argued that the cameras are necessary to ensure the safety of the millions of tourists expected to visit Paris for the Games. Some lawmakers even claimed that the technology could have prevented the 2016 Nice terror attack and the security issues at the 2022 football Champions League final. 

Officials also stated that the AI cameras would not process biometric data nor be implemented widely across France after the Games. 

"The experiment is very precisely limited in time... (and) the algorithm does not substitute for human judgement, which remains decisive," sports minister Amelie Oudea-Castera told MPs.

Nonetheless, the camera tests would not only cover the Olympic Games. The period stated in the bill will run until the end of 2024 – well after the Games – and allow the technology to be used in championships like the Rugby World Cup later this year.

"The way this law is thought out is as if we live in a permanent state of emergency," said Elise Martin, a France Unbowed (LFI) MP. 

Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general, said: "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.”  

The bill cleared the last legislative hurdle after seven hours of debate, although it could still be challenged by the country's constitutional court. 

In 2021, E&T analysed the Olympic Games' relationship to technological innovation, and how international sports competitions have been at the forefront of innovative trials. 

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