Is this how French President Emmanuel Macron is choosing to celebrate 70 years of Communist rule?
In a plan that sounds eerily similar to China's 'social credit score' system, Macron and the French Interior Ministry are pushing ahead plans to launch a national facial-recognition program, arguing that it "will make the state more efficient."
According to Bloomberg, the ID program, known as "Alicem", is set to be rolled out in November, after the launch was moved forward from an end-of-year timeline.
Despite objections from the rest of the European community, Macron appears dead-set on adopting the new system, ensuring that all French citizens will be incorporated into the project, whether they support it or not.
Even within the French government, there's opposition to the new plan. France's data regulator argued that the program breaches the European rule of consent, and a French privacy group is challenging the plan in France’s highest administrative court.
There's also the question of security: It took a hacker just over an hour to break into a "secure" government messaging app earlier this year. Should a hacker break into this database, the repercussions would be much more serious.
But the government simply won't be swayed...which isn't all that surprising. Macron has shown strong Statist tendencies since shortly after he was sworn in.
"The government wants to funnel people to use Alicem and facial recognition," said Martin Drago, a lawyer member of the privacy group La Quadrature du Net that filed the lawsuit against the state. "We’re heading into mass usage of facial recognition. (There’s) little interest in the importance of consent and choice." The case, filed in July, won’t suspend Alicem.
However, the group makes a good point: the era of mass facial-recognition has unfortunately arrived in Western Europe - and sooner than many had expected. Soon, the French won't just be monitored, they will be actively tracked by an advanced software that will record all of their movements.
Unlike in China and Singapore, the French won't use their facial recognition system for surveillance, the French government said in a statement.
France says the ID system won’t be used to keep tabs on residents. Unlike in China and Singapore, the country won’t be integrating the facial recognition biometric into citizens’ identity databases. In fact, the interior ministry, which developed the Alicem app, says the facial recognition data collected will be deleted when the enrollment process is over. That hasn’t stopped people from worrying about its potential misuse.
"Rushing into facial recognition at this point is a major risk" because of uncertainties on its final use, said Didier Baichere, a governing-party lawmaker who sits on the Parliament’s "future technologies" commission and is the author of a July report on the subject. Allowing mass-usage before putting in place proper checks and balances is "ludicrous," he said.
Users can choose to 'engage' with the new system by downloading an Android-only app that will upload their 'biometric passport'.
An ID will be created through a one-time enrollment that works by comparing a user’s photo in their biometric passport to a selfie video taken on the app that will capture expressions, movements and angles. The phone and the passport will communicate through their embedded chips.
Opponents of the system say users must choose to participate, or the system will be in violation of Europe's new data privacy regulations, the GDPR.
Opponents say the app potentially violates Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, which makes free choice mandatory. Emilie Seruga-Cau, who heads the law enforcement unit at the CNIL, the country’s independent privacy regulator, said it has made its concerns “very clear.”
Soon, France won't be the only European county looking into this technology. The UK - the home of 'Big Brother' - has reportedly contracted with Singapore to learn more about facial recognition technology and discuss implementing it. Singapore has always been considered a relatively benign and uncorrupt one-party state. And the fact that the UK is taking security tips from Singapore isn't exactly reassuring.