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French MPs Approve Controversial Surveillance Tech Under Olympics Pretext

New Bill on Olympic Games Legalizes Rights-Threatening Algorithmic Surveillance

The Olympic rings are set up at Trocadero plaza in Paris, France, on September 14, 2017. © 2017 AP Photo/Michel Euler, File

Yesterday, the French National Assembly adopted a government bill that may, for the first time in EU history, legalize the use of controversial algorithm-driven video surveillance in France. The measure is supposedly being introduced as a precaution ahead of the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic games and constitutes a serious threat to civic freedoms and democratic principles.

The use of surveillance technologies creates a state of permanent monitoring, profiling, and tracking that disproportionately harms marginalized people. It has been demonstrated how algorithm driven systems employed to fight crime, lead to over-criminalization of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities.

Dozens of civil society organizations, including Human Rights Watch, wrote a public letter to French members of the National Assembly, warning that the new provisions set a worrying precedent of unjustified and disproportionate surveillance in public spaces, and threaten basic rights- such as the right to privacy, the freedom of assembly and association, and the right to non-discrimination.

The new surveillance measures are presented in the law as experimental solution by the French government. But experience in France and elsewhere has shown that experimental security measures often become the norm.

Independent institutions and policymakers have also spoken out. The National Consultative Commission for Human Rights (CNCDH) warned French MPs against a measure that is “too prejudicial to fundamental freedoms to be adopted”. Forty-nine members of the European Parliament have warned against the creation of a “precedent of surveillance never seen in Europe”.

Despite these grave concerns, French MPs supported the measure, paving the way for abuses at home, and setting an example for other countries that may look to exploit security concerns as a mechanism to extend their surveillance powers.

The Olympics should be an opportunity for French citizens to watch its athletes shine. Instead, the government is exploiting the games to increase its ability to watch its citizens. The Olympic games should not be used as an experiment to test intrusive surveillance technologies that endanger rights.

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