French national police illegally use Israeli facial recognition software Briefcam since 2015, French investigative media To discover he reported on Tuesday (November 14).
The use of facial recognition software by law enforcement is prohibited in France. Although it is still prohibited, this disposal has recently become more common flexible for trial purposes in the context of the upcoming Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
“In 2015, (French) law enforcement authorities secretly purchased video surveillance image analysis software from the Israeli company Briefcam. For eight years, the Ministry of Internal Affairs concealed the use of this tool, which enables the use of facial recognition,” they say article per To discover.
To discover says he had access to internal e-mail and documents of the French National Police, which constitute evidence of the use of Briefcam without sufficient legal basis.
Euractiv approached the French Data Protection Authority (CNIL), the French Ministry of Digital Sciences, the Ministry of the Interior and the Directorate General of the National Police (DGPN) for comment, but there was no response at the time of publication.
Alleged violations of the law
If confirmed, the use of Briefcam would violate French data protection and freedom law updated in 2019, which states that it is prohibited to “use any biometric identification system, (or) process any biometric data and (…) implement any facial recognition techniques”.
This ban results from the implementation of the EU General Data Protection Regulation 2018 Regulation (GDPR), which states that the processing of all biometric data, including facial images, is prohibited.
According to To discover, the Ministry of Interior is aware that the police use Israeli software. The article reports that a senior official within the Home Office’s Directorate for National Public Security (DNSP) sent an email to his superiors stating: “Regardless of the software used (especially Briefcam), it is forbidden to turn any face – device for matching or recognizing faces”.
To be confirmed
According to Florian Leibovic, Briefcam’s director of sales for Europe, police stations in more than a hundred municipalities use the software in France, which, according to the company itself, can “detection, tracking, isolation, classification and alerting of persons of interest appearing on real-time or forensic video surveillance footage”.
French MP and board member of the French data protection agency Philippe Latombe told Euractiv: “The real question is: How is facial recognition implemented and by whom?”.
He explained four ways of answering these two questions, with different “levels of guilt”.
According to Latombe, the first possibility would be for the French police to use Briefcam “without using their biometric tools and under the supervision of a judge”. Then, in his opinion, there would be no legal problems.
Second, if police “use facial recognition tools for a specific search and under the supervision of a judge.” This would indeed have no legal basis, but would be somewhat acceptable due to the oversight of the judicial body in the context of the investigation.
Third, the French MP explained that if the police used facial recognition tools to scan people’s faces in general under the supervision of a judge, the breach would be serious as it would amount to mass surveillance prohibited under EU and French law.
In the worst case, police officers would carry out such a general scan without judicial supervision, which Latombe considers a serious violation of existing laws.
However, Latombe stated that as things stood, and according to the information he had at the moment, it appeared that the French police were using Briefcam for a posteriori inquiries, using specific searches that may have used facial recognition, but not using generalized scanning and under under the supervision of a judge.
(Editing by Luca Bertuzzi/Nathalie Weatherald)