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  • France’s data regulator says the country is breaching Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, which makes obligatory.

    France’s data regulator says the country is breaching Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, which makes obligatory. | Photo: Reuters

Published 6 October 2019

The application will be the only way for residents to create a legal digital ID, and facial recognition will be their unique way to do so. 

France is set to be the first country in the European Union to use facial recognition technology to give citizens a digital identity.

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President Emmanuel Macron’s government said it wants the state to be more competent and is, therefore, driving plans to disclose in November the ID program in the form of an application designated by the label Alicem. 

The application, only functioning on Android will be the only mode for residents to create a legal digital ID, and facial recognition will be their unique way to do so. 

An ID will be generated via 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 catch expressions, movements, and angles. The phone and the passport will establish contact through their embedded chips.

France’s data regulator says the country is violating Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, which makes free choice mandatory, and a privacy organization, La Quadrature du Net, went against the decision in July, before the highest administrative court. 

“The government wants to funnel people to use Alicem and facial recognition,” said Martin Drago, a lawyer member of the privacy group that. “We’re heading into mass usage of facial recognition. There’s little interest in the importance of consent and choice.” 

However, the suit won’t suspend Alicem and does not appear to be dissuading the government.

France assures the ID system won’t serve to keep tabs on residents and says the country won’t be integrating the facial recognition biometric into people’s identity databases. It adds the facial recognition data collected will be erased as soon as the enrollment process is over. But that wasn’t sufficient to reassure everyone about its possible misuse.

“Rushing into facial recognition at this point is a major risk” because of doubts on its final use, said Didier Baichere, a lawmaker who sits on the Parliament’s 'future technologies' commission.

Security is also another concern for opponents as authorities affirm the security of Alicem is at the “highest, state level.” 

Yet, hacker Robert Baptiste was able earlier this year to access one of the government’s “highly secure” apps within 75 minutes, prompting perplexity about the state’s online security toughness.

On the other hand, and as the EU’s new Commission mandate begins in November, the commissioners said their goals will look forward to building a “Europe fit for the Digital Age,” taking steps to master Artificial Intelligence technologies, including facial recognition.

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