Top French court backs AI-powered surveillance cameras for Paris Olympics

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PARIS — France’s top constitutional court on Wednesday backed the use of AI-powered surveillance cameras for the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics but also gave guidelines for implementation.

The court wrote in its decision that the legislation allowing the new measures does not infringe upon privacy rights because it ensures humans permanently control “the development, implementation and possible evolution of algorithmic processing.”

In April, the French parliament approved the controversial bill that allows the experimental use of large-scale, real-time camera systems supported by algorithms to spot suspicious behavior — including unsupervised luggage and crowd movements like stampedes — for the Olympics. The system is set to be in place until March 2025.

The Constitutional Council’s decision to greenlight the plan is a blow for privacy campaigners who oppose AI-powered mass surveillance as well as for French left-leaning lawmakers who had challenged the text in court.

The court said the system aims to “prevent public order offenses,” which aligns with the constitution. Moreover, the cameras will only be deployed during sports, recreational or cultural events, which are at high risk of becoming terror attack targets, and will not include facial recognition, it said. The council added that public authorities will need to ensure that no biometric surveillance is needed to monitor the events, and that footage and data collected through the cameras are not linked to other databases.

State representatives can only allow the cameras’ deployment for purposes designated under the law, the court said, and must immediately end usage if the law’s conditions are no longer met.

Public authorities will need to clearly state who’s responsible for processing personal data, which event will be monitored, as well as why, where and for how long. Individual decisions to use the system can be challenged in court.

The French government welcomed the court’s decision.