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The French government plans to roll out a national identification service based on face recognition. Critics warn that the new system violates citizens’ privacy.

What’s new: Beginning in November, President Emmanual Macron’s administration plans to implement a digital ID program based on an Android app. While French citizens aren’t required to enroll, the app will be the only digital portal to many government services.

How it works: Called Alicem, the app is designed to authenticate the user’s identity for interactions such as filing taxes, applying for pension benefits, and paying utility bills.

  • Alicem starts by capturing video of the user’s face from various angles.
  • Then it compares the video to the user’s passport photo to determine whether they depict the same individual.
  • The app will delete the video selfie once it has completed enrollment, according to France’s Ministry of Interior.

Behind the news: France isn’t the first government to use face recognition in this way. Singapore also offers access to government services via face print.

Yes, but: Emilie Seruga-Cau, who heads France’s privacy regulator, says Alicem’s authentication scheme violates the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation by failing to offer an alternative to face recognition. A privacy group called La Quadrature du Net has sued the government over the issue. France’s Interior Ministry has shown no sign of bowing to such concerns.

We’re thinking: Any democratic government aiming to use face recognition for identification must protect its citizens on two fronts. Laws must restrict use of the data to its intended purpose, and due care must be taken to secure the data against hacks.


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