More than 38 civil society organisations have released a public letter calling on the French National Assembly to reject an Olympic Games provision that would set a new precedent for surveillance in public spaces.
The proposed law on the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games was adopted by French senators in January, and is set to be examined by the National Assembly.
The new Olympic Games law contains a provision that creates a legal basis for the use of algorithm-driven cameras to detect suspicious events in public areas.
“According to our organisations, the surveillance provision of the proposed bill would constitute a serious threat to civic freedoms and democratic principles,” said Frederike Kaltheuner, Director for Technology and Human Rights at Human Rights Watch.
“It would increase the risk of racial discrimination in law enforcement and be a further step toward the normalization of exceptional surveillance powers under the guise of security for major events,” he continued.
In the letter, advocates expressed concern that governments may use the need to secure big events as a pretext for invasive algorithm-driven video surveillance. The new Olympic Games law would see France become the first EU state to explicitly legalise these practices.
“We believe that the proposed surveillance measures violate international human rights law as they contravene the principles of necessity and proportionality, and pose unacceptable risks to fundamental rights, such as the right to privacy, the freedom of assembly and association, and the right to non-discrimination,” reads the letter.
According to the group of organisations, the existence of untargeted, or indiscriminate, algorithmic video surveillance in publicly accessible areas poses a threat to fundamental civic freedoms, including the right to freedom of assembly, association and expression. It also threatens the right to privacy and data protection.
The right to privacy is an increasingly pressing issue across Europe. In September last year, Greek journalists testified at a European Parliamentary inquiry on the use of Pegasus and equivalent spyware in the country.
The Greek government has been exposed as having used spyware to target journalists and opposition politicians.
As part of the inquiry, Greek journalist Thanasis Koukakis, targeted with Predator spyware, Stavros Malichoudis, a victim of wire-tapping, and Eliza Triantafillou, an investigative journalist, described their experiences of government surveillance.
“When you have a system like Predator, you don’t use it for just two people,” Koukakis said.
Activists argue that if France passes this latest Olympic Games law, algorithmic video surveillance will remain standard practice after 2025.
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