Lawmakers worry about being watched as they vote on the Paris Olympic law.© Images AGN

PARIS — Critics say that a proposed French law for the 2024 Olympics in Paris will make it easier to use video surveillance technology that invades people’s privacy in France and elsewhere in Europe. Lawmakers are going to vote on the law on Tuesday, which will be a big step in the right direction.

The bill would make it legal to use so-called intelligent surveillance systems temporarily to protect next year’s Paris Games, which run from July 26 to August 11 and are followed by the Paralympics. The systems use cameras and software that uses artificial intelligence to spot potential security problems, such as packages that have been left behind or sudden crowds. Operators would decide if something needs to be done.

The French government says that facial recognition would not be used in the surveillance. Supporters of the bill say that the technology could help prevent tragedies like the crowd crush that killed almost 160 people in South Korea in October during Halloween celebrations.

“It’s not about being able to pick out ‘Mr. X’ in a crowd,” Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told members of the National Assembly last week as they discussed the measures. “It’s about knowing what’s going on.”

In January, the Senate passed the draft with 245 votes to 28 against. If the National Assembly does the same thing Tuesday afternoon, assembly members and senators will make more changes to the bill before it is finally passed in April.

Groups that watch out for digital rights say that France will break international human rights law if it becomes the first of the 27 countries in the European Union to legalize AI-powered surveillance, even if it’s only for a short time. The bill says that the technology can be tried out until the end of 2024 to protect French sporting and cultural events that are especially likely to be attacked by terrorists.

Amnesty International adviser on AI regulation Mher Hakobyan said that the use of this technology “risks permanently turning France into a dystopian surveillance state” and “will lead to an all-out attack on the rights to privacy, protest, and freedom of assembly and expression.”

“It has also been well-documented that hostile surveillance technologies are used disproportionately to target marginalized groups, such as migrants and people of color,” Hakobyan said.

Critics say that even though the draft law says the cameras won’t use facial recognition, they could still look at people’s postures, walks, and gestures. People who are against the technology are also worried that it could be used to track down people who spend a lot of time in public places, like the homeless. The bill also makes it possible for cameras on drones to be used with this technology.

Sandra Regol, a lawmaker from the opposition, told the National Assembly last week that the bill would turn Olympic visitors into “guinea pigs” for AI-powered surveillance.

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