World

Paris tests face-mask recognition software on metro riders

Bloomberg

The Paris metro authority is testing CCTV software to detect whether travelers are wearing face masks.

It’s part of the city’s efforts to end lockdown and help prevent the spread of COVID-19, but it’s raised concerns from the government’s privacy watchdog.

The authority began a three-month test of its software from French tech company Datakalab this week at the Chatelet-Les-Halles station in the heart of Paris, normally used by about 33 million passengers per year. Monitors will have access to a dashboard with the proportion of riders believed to be wearing masks.

France is planning to make mask wearing mandatory in public transportation from May 11 when it plans to ease lockdown measures, and software like Datakalab’s may be able to supplement enforcement agents in stations. Still, CNIL, the government body in charge of privacy, raised concerns that this type of technology carries a risk that the identity of the people being analyzed could be reconstructed. The measures would also qualify under Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation because the cameras will be collecting people’s personal data, the group said.

“We don’t collect data, we don’t store it,” said Xavier Fischer, chief executive officer of Datakalab. There’s also a 15-minute delay from when the data is collected to when it’s sent to authorities, he said.

Surveillance technology use has surged as governments try to find ways to control populations under lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic — from drones that bark orders at people congregating to mapping people’s movements with their mobile phones. Fischer’s technology has already been deployed in the coastal city of Cannes in a market and at bus stops to monitor social distancing.

RATP, the Paris metro authority, said it’s alerted CNIL of its plans and will closely adhere to GDPR. The software will be deployed to measure how many people are following the rules and won’t be used to fine people who aren’t wearing masks, a spokesman said.

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