France Plans to Become First European Country to Use Facial Recognition for Digital Identity System

France Plans to Become First European Country to Use Facial Recognition for Digital Identity System

The French government plans to introduce a program called Alicem that will require residents to take a selfie video to compare to their passport photo.

As part of its plans to roll out an ID program in November, the French government will incorporate facial recognition technology into a mandatory digital identity for all citizens, according to a Bloomberg report.

President Emmanuel Macron’s government is championing the ID program, known as Alicem, as a way to make government programs more efficient. But France’s data regulator has said that Alicem breaches Europe’s rules around consent for collecting personal data, Bloomberg reported. In addition, after a hacker was able to gain access to a government messaging app in a little over an hour, citizens are concerned about the country’s ability to keep their data secure. 

French privacy rights group La Quadrature du Net has already filed a lawsuit against the government for its plans to launch an Android-only app that will be the only way for French people to create a legal digital identity. Facial recognition will be its sole enabler, according to Bloomberg. 

Once residents download the app, they will create their ID by comparing a passport-style photo to a selfie video taken by the user to obtain different angles and expressions. Critics say that this app violates the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and France’s independent privacy watchdog has voiced its concerns about potential GDPR issues. 

“The government wants to funnel people to use Alicem and facial recognition,” Martin Drago, a lawyer member of La Quadrature du Net, told Bloomberg. “We’re heading into mass usage of facial recognition. (There’s) little interest in the importance of consent and choice.”

While France may be the first European country to institute a facial recognition-based digital ID, countries in Asia are in the midst of launching their own programs or already have. Singapore is creating a facial recognition system for government services, China uses facial recognition IDs to monitor its citizens, and India scans people’s irises for its identity systems. 

Macron’s interior ministry maintains that face scans will be deleted after the person enrolls in the system, and that they will not be used to monitor residents, according to MIT Technology Review. For Patrick Van Eecke, a privacy and data specialist in Belgium, the French program can be viewed through two lenses. 

“You can look at France’s use of facial recognition for digital identity in two ways: it goes too far in terms of privacy, or they’re using the most secure new technology. Are they a front-runner or are they overstepping the mark?” Van Eecke told Bloomberg. 

About the Author

Haley Samsel is an Associate Content Editor for the Infrastructure Solutions Group at 1105 Media.

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