France is integrating new AI tools into security cameras in the Paris metro system to check whether passengers are wearing face masks.
The software, which has already been deployed elsewhere in the country, began a three-month trial in the central Chatelet-Les Halles station of Paris this week, reports Bloomberg. French startup DatakaLab, which created the program, says the goal is not to identify or punish individuals who don’t wear masks, but to generate anonymous statistical data that will help authorities anticipate future outbreaks of COVID-19.
“We are just measuring this one objective,” DatakaLab CEO Xavier Fischer told The Verge. “The goal is just to publish statistics of how many people are wearing masks every day.”
The pilot is one of a number of measures cities around the world are introducing as they begin to ease lockdown measures and allow people to return to work. Although France, like the US, initially discouraged citizens from wearing masks, the country has now made them mandatory on public transport. It’s even considering introducing fines of €135 ($145) for anyone found not wearing a mask on the subway, trains, buses, or taxis.
The introduction of AI software to monitor and possibly enforce these measures will be closely watched. The spread of AI-powered surveillance and facial recognition software in China has worried many privacy advocates in the West, but the pandemic is an immediate threat that governments may feel takes priority over dangers to individual privacy.
DatakaLab, though, insists its software is privacy-conscious and compliant with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The company has sold AI-powered video analytics for several years, using the technology to generate data for shops and malls about the demographics of their customers. “We never sell for security purposes,” says Fischer. “And that is a condition in all our sales contracts: you can’t use this data for surveillance.”