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AN ETHICAL FACIAL RECOGNITION: AN
Geneviève Fieux-Castagnet and Gérald Santucci
1. General presentation_____________________________________________________3
1.1. Technology used___________________________________________________________3
1.2. Main functions of facial recognition___________________________________________4
2. Ethical issues___________________________________________________________6
2.1. For use cases involving personal authentication_________________________________6
2.2. For use cases relating to the identification of persons_____________________________7
2.3. For use cases relating to the categorization of people and their profiling_____________8
3. Towards a framework for the use of facial recognition__________________________9
3.1. The existing legal framework_________________________________________________9
3.1.1. The European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the
3.1.2. The general European regulation on the protection of personal data (GDPR)
3.1.3. The “Police-Justice” Directive
3.2. Specific legal treatment of facial recognition___________________________________12
3.2.1. The European Commission’s regulatory proposals
3.2.2. CNIL positions
3.3. Technical measures for securing data or algorithms____________________________16
4. Facial recognition and democratic life______________________________________17
4.1. The launch of national and European debates_________________________________17
4.2. Democratic guarantees of power____________________________________________18
1. General presentation
How can a machine, even “intelligent”, recognize faces? Certainly, all faces have the same
elements: two eyes, a nose, lips, forehead, cheeks, ears, hair etc., but at the same time each
face is different from that of others and, moreover, the same face often changes appearance
depending on the person’s age, the emotions they feel, the expressions they give themselves
as well as their orientation.
Facial recognition, one of the main applications of artificial intelligence, is gaining ground
every day without us even realizing it. Since 2018, travellers who take the train to London
from Gare du Nord, or who embark at Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle, have been dealing with new
security gates which are intended to verify their identities whilst passing the border.
Now our faces unlock our cell phones, give us access to our online bank, allow us to board
trains and planes, etc.
It goes without saying that the issue of what is happening is important for the respect of our
private life. In the age of “surveillance capitalism”, to use the expression of American
sociologist and academic Shoshana Zuboff, is privacy condemned? Possibly – though it
should be noted that “privacy” should not be what “society” (government, business) gives us,
but what we decide to do with it.
But beyond privacy, artificial intelligence, and in particular, facial recognition, questions us
about ethics. This cross-cutting theme will appear implicitly throughout this article.
1.1. Technology used
Facial recognition is a computer technology that automatically recognizes a person on the
basis of his face. For this, it uses biometric data1
The facial recognition is done in four stages:
•Face detection, followed by its alignment, in order to locate the face of an individual
on an image and to delimit its contours within a field;
•The extraction of facial features and their computer transformation into a model or
template that can be used for the actual recognition task;
•Face recognition by looking for a correspondence between the template and one or
more other templates contained in a database.
Source: Youssef FENJIRO, project manager and data science
In the case of facial biometrics, a 2D or 3D sensor “captures” a face, then transforms it into
digital data by the operation of an algorithm and compares it to a database.
Thanks to these automated systems, the identification and verification of the identity of
individuals can be carried out in just a few seconds from the characteristics of their face:
opening of the eyes, edges of the nose, commissures of the lips, ears, chin, etc., including in
the middle of a crowd or in dynamic and unstable environments.
Although there are other biometric signatures (fingerprints, iris scan, voice, digitization of
veins in the palm of the hand, or behavioural analysis), facial recognition is the most effective
references in biometric measurements:
•it is easy to deploy and implement;
•there is no physical interaction required by the end user;
•face detection and matching processes (for verification / identification) are very fast.
1.2. Main functions of facial recognition
Biometrics identify and authenticate a person based on a set of recognizable, verifiable,
unique and specific data and can also categorize people.
The identification answers the question: “Who are you?” The person is identified among
others by comparing his personal data with the data of other people which are contained in the
same database or possibly in linked databases.
It is used in some countries to provide security functions. Facial recognition is used by the
police to find criminals, terrorists, lost children etc.
Facial recognition is used by China who has positioned itself at the forefront of facial
recognition technology and installed thousands of “smart cameras” across the country.
Government and private surveillance companies are partnering to develop surveillance
systems. A typical use of facial recognition is the fight against jaywalking in Shenzhen:
intelligent surveillance cameras are placed near pedestrian crossings to monitor pedestrian
traffic. If a passer-by crosses the signal from the traffic lights without waiting, it is detected by
the cameras and the facial data relating to it is compared with that which appears in the files
held by the authorities; in the event of a correspondence, the photo of the author of the
violation is posted in a general view on a large screen near the pedestrian crossing. In the
absence of privacy laws, China has established itself as the world leader in facial recognition.
It introduced a “social credit system” which measures the reputation of citizens according to
their behaviour and their social presence. The score obtained by an individual defines what he
is authorized to do and, below a certain level, certain rights and advantages are taken away
from him (for example, the possibility of making a travel reservation).
India, on the other hand, is building the world’s largest facial recognition database.
Authorities argue that in a country with 1.3 billion people, this technology is essential to assist
the under-resourced police force. In another area, most railway stations plan to use facial
recognition software by the end of 2020 to help combat crime. The system is already being
tested in the Bangalore technology hub, where half a million faces are scanned each day and
then compared to faces stored in police databases. Facial recognition should also be used on
board trains by means of video surveillance cameras initially installed inside 1,200 of the
58,000 train compartments. In addition, sensors will be tested to detect certain sounds such as
shouts or loud voices emanating from arguments.
Authentication, on the other hand, answers the question, “Are you who you say you are?”
Biometrics here is used to certify a person's identity by comparing the data they present with
the pre-recorded data of the person they claim to be. Let’s first take the case of the Eurostar.
When we previously used this company to go to London, we always had to present our
passport and our train ticket. However, everything has changed. The train ticket, instead of
being printed on a physical medium, is now an e-ticket downloaded to our mobile phone and,
above all, the passport is no longer examined by a security officer at the counter, but checked
by a machine whose camera and computer screen scrutinize us: you have to stand in front of
the free airlock, position your passport on the reader, then when the passport is detected and
the door allows you to enter, the airlock opens, you must position yourself on the ground
marking and look at the camera so as to allow the identification of your face. If your face is
identified, the airlock exit door opens. In the end, what do we need to take the Eurostar? An e-
ticket and a passport, of course, but also and above all a face.
At Aéroports de Paris (ADP), it is the Gemalto company, acquired by Thales in April 2019,
which has designed, with the Ministry of the Interior, the computer program known as
“Parafe” (Rapid automated exterior border crossing). Thales hopes that its collaboration with
ADP will expand to cover all needs from check-in for a flight to the time of boarding, the
technology used thus avoiding having to ask for identity items every time.
Categorization by biometrics is used to categorize people according to their characteristics,
which include gender, age, ethnicity, in order to profile them. The algorithmic analysis of
faces allows detecting certain diseases, such as depression, but also, according to an
increasing number of researchers, emotions. Facial expression analysis software like
FaceReader is capable of collecting emotion data in order to analyse the expressions “happy”,
“sad”, “angry”, “surprised”, “scared”, “disgusted”, and “neutral”. Indeed, capturing emotions
by analysing facial expressions offers additional and objective insights into the impact,
appreciation, liking, and disliking of goods, services, mobile apps, websites, commercials,
movie trailers, and so on2. Because of the vast quantities of data needed to train an artificial
intelligence to effectively detect emotions, many researchers remain sceptical about the future
of facial recognition in this area, particularly so if the subject is not sitting in front of a camera
and looking straight into it. However, new research is being undertaken, for example at
Fujitsu where, thanks to what is called a “normalization process”, pictures taken from a
particular angle can be converted into images that look like a frontal shot. Claiming a
detection accuracy rate of 81% (compared to an accuracy rate of 60% for its main
competitors), Fujitsu highlights diverse potential applications for its new technology,
including road safety by detecting even small changes in drivers’ concentration or the
capability of a robot to recognize our most subtle changes of humour. such future prospects
sound promising indeed, insofar as their ethical implications are effectively addressed, but
researchers should bear in mind that face expressions also possess a cultural dimension, i.e.
their meaning is different according to where the subject lives – Asia, Europe, Africa or else.
2. Ethical issues
2.1. For use cases involving personal authentication
In this use case, the main ethical risk is a false negative if the person is not recognized, which
could lead people to believe that they are not in good standing and thus undermine their
dignity. However, we know that false negatives are more frequent among people of colour,
which can generate a form of discrimination. Some facial analysis programs are biased by
gender or racial bias, which results in a low error rate for light-skinned men, but a high error
rate for dark-skinned women3.
Facial recognition could also be used to access business premises or in high schools. Even if
the system was based on the consent of individuals, how can we think that it is really free
when there is an unequal balance of power? The use of facial recognition in these cases can
very quickly give people the impression of being watched in their behaviour, in their
schedules, or in their attendance, which can generate a feeling of surveillance, privacy and
The collection of biometric data which is one of the attributes of a person’s uniqueness can be
experienced as an attack on dignity. The more generalized the system, the more there will be a
risk of feeling of loss of individuality; the face that expresses a person’s emotions and
sensitivity will take on the dimension of a simple tool among other tools, thus generating a
feeling of “depersonalization” and dehumanization. The raw material of this technology is
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nothing less than our faces. Can we consider that the face of a user constitutes a “data” like
In addition, misuse or function creep can have serious consequences on the rights and
freedoms of people: identity theft, dissemination of images on social networks, blackmail,
As CNIL (Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés) points out, “facial
recognition devices are particularly intrusive and present major risks of invasion of the
privacy and individual freedoms of the persons concerned. They are also likely to create a
feeling of reinforced surveillance”4.
All these cases of use of authentication of people generate an addiction and a trivialization of
the use of a technology which contains in it the potential for authoritarian drift in an
undemocratic regime where the checks and balances would be weak.
2.2. For use cases relating to the identification of persons
A use case can be the identification on the public highway of wanted persons, by confronting
in real time all the faces captured on the fly by video protection cameras with a database held
by the police. The faces of all the people who pass by or who are there when looking for a
specific individual are subjects of facial recognition. The technology, being non-contact, can
then be considered invasive. For it to be fully effective in terms of security and tracking
offenders, it must still be widely deployed by numerous video cameras equipped with the
artificial intelligence system (SIA) and that the databases be the best available. Its
effectiveness is therefore proportional to its deployment, which makes this technology an
open door to a mass surveillance company.
The mere fact of knowing that one can be the subject of facial recognition in a public place is
likely to be experienced as a form of surveillance and interference in the private sphere which
can induce behavioural changes and spontaneous restriction in his freedom to come and go, to
meet or to associate. This results in a feeling of indirect interference with freedom of
expression and, consequently, with privacy and the dignity of the person.5 Are we ready, as
citizens, to completely and permanently lose our anonymity in public spaces? Given the speed
of deployment of the multiple uses of facial recognition, what is consent worth? Some people,
worried about their privacy, use make-up, clothes and accessories to scramble facial
recognition software. “In Russia, an activist artist adept at anti-system performances
organized a virtual community around these techniques ... before being arrested.”6
In addition, facial recognition software in the context of police investigations again presents
the risk of “false negatives” (technology fails to match a face with that appearing on a watch
list, as a result of which suspects are not detected) and “false positives” (technology leads to
Added to this is a significant risk of cybersecurity and malicious data capture which can lead
to major risks for individuals, especially when the data is crossed with that of other private
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databases (for example those of large companies Internet technologies, GAFAM or BATX).
Can we trust all those who promise us the security of the ultra-sensitive data that constitutes
our face? Who would be able to guarantee the legality of the processing carried out by public
or private operators? Consideration should also be given to the case where the controller
himself surreptitiously slides from a limited and risk-free use to another more invasive and
In the case of machine learning, biases could enter and stigmatize part of the population.
2.3. For use cases relating to the categorization of people and their profiling
This use case can help identify categories of people based on their ethnicity. In China, facial
recognition has made it possible to identify people of Uighur origin, to follow them, to control
them and to lock them up by hundreds of thousands in internment camps. Facial recognition
can thus make it possible to exercise repressive action against a minority.
One of the risks of this technology is its combination with other databases which will allow
the identification of individuals in very many fields allowing a massive profiling of
individuals with a very strong violation of fundamental freedoms and rights7. There are
already applications that allow you to find the name, activities, contacts of any person from a
photo using the billions of data that appear on the internet and on social networks.8
The value of AI results depends on the questions put to them: anyone looking for correlations
between facies and any type of data will necessarily find them. The exorbitant asymmetry of
information implied by this technology increases the possibilities of influence and coercion
emanating from the authorities, whether they be political or economic. A “Big Brother”
(symbol of totalitarianism) or a “Big Other” (symbol of “instrumentarianism”), capable of
recognizing all individuals and instantly obtaining their profile and background, would far
surpass the dystopian scenarios imagined. formerly by BF SKINNER (Walden Two, 1948)
and George ORWELL (1984, 1949).
Sensing emotions for commercial purposes can also be insidious: smart supermarket shelves
raise ethical questions if prices vary depending on the consumer who is in front of them, or
even legal questions when personalizing content. without the person’s knowledge. Whatever
the use case, here again it is advisable to inform well the people who may be subject to
Without prejudging scientific and technological advances which will continue to perfect the
uses of facial recognition, it is legitimate to wonder about the real contribution of these
systems to improve, as companies claim, “customer satisfaction”. Indeed, to what extent is it
technically feasible to deduce a degree of customer satisfaction from an emotion? Are our
faces not constantly animated by micro-movements which do not necessarily reflect a state of
satisfaction or dissatisfaction? In addition, emotions being fleeting, even ephemeral, how
could a system capture the moment among so many others during which the emotion
expressed is truly a reflection of satisfaction or lasting dissatisfaction? Furthermore, do
commercial purposes justify such an intrusion into a person’s privacy?
3. Towards a framework for the use of facial recognition
The deployment of facial recognition has accelerated in recent years to such an extent that it is
legitimate to wonder if it will not end up imposing itself, with its biases on which it will be
very difficult to return, despite the discriminations generated, and even though its
effectiveness differs according to the conditions of use and the populations (sex, ethnicity,
3.1. The existing legal framework
Between block rejection of facial recognition and unbridled use, there is a way to find whose
responsibility lies with the public authorities. Already in Europe there are “legal benchmarks”
which are the European Convention on Human Rights, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of
the European Union, the European General Data Protection Regulation and the Police. Justice
3.1.1. The European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of
the European Union
188.8.131.52. Protected rights
Dignity, freedoms (respect for private life, protection of personal data, freedom of thought,
conscience, religion, freedom of expression and information, freedom of assembly and
association) constitute by virtue of the European Convention on Human Rights9 and the
Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union10 fundamental rights which must be
applied in a non-discriminatory manner.
The protection of personal data and privacy therefore concerns protected rights. Facial
recognition using personal data and invading privacy in essence violates these fundamental
rights and cannot be developed freely within the European Union. Measures must be taken to
ensure that facial recognition respects these fundamental rights.
184.108.40.206. Protection of these rights
The general principle of these texts is that only a law can limit the exercise of the
aforementioned rights and freedoms11.
The limits brought by law to these rights and freedoms must respect the essential content of
these rights and freedoms, be necessary, proportional, and meet objectives of general interest
recognized by the European Union or the need to protect rights and freedoms of others. The
European Convention on Human Rights cites the objectives of general interest which can be,
in a democratic society, national security, public safety, the economic well-being of the
country, the defence of order and the prevention of crimes protection of health or morals. In
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light of these texts, facial recognition should not be able to develop outside of a legal
framework. In France, in particular, there is a European framework with the GDPR and a
stricter French framework, authorized by the GDPR12 with the Data Protection Act.
3.1.2. The general European regulation on the protection of personal data (GDPR)
220.127.116.11. Identification of people
The protection of Article 9 of the aforementioned GDPR clearly provides for the principle of
prohibiting the processing of biometric data allowing a person to be identified in a unique
way. The principle is therefore the prohibition of facial recognition but only with regard to the
identification of people. The ban does not cover the authentication of persons or their
There are exceptions to this prohibition: we will only mention the main ones: first of all, the
explicit consent of the persons concerned, which raises the question of truly free consent and
the offer of genuine alternatives to facial recognition, and also when a law provides for the
possibility of using this technology in public health matters or when there are essential
reasons of public interest.
Legal protection is therefore important when it comes to identifying individuals by facial
recognition since if the persons concerned do not give their consent, only a law will allow to
resort to it. This law must nevertheless respect the principles of the European Convention on
Human Rights mentioned above13.
But what about people authentication and facial recognition profiling?
18.104.22.168. People authentication
In both cases, an impact analysis is mandatory. This impact analysis is indeed required when
the processing is likely to create a high risk for the rights of people14. It allows an analysis of
the impact of the planned processing operations on the protection of personal data. The
supervisory authorities draw up lists of the types of processing operations for which an impact
assessment is compulsory. In some, the supervisory authority is asked for prior opinion and
freedoms of natural persons.15 The powers of the supervisory authorities are broad: they can
request additional information but also carry out investigations and require corrective
measures, which can go as far as prohibiting processing and fining in the event of violation of
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Profiling using facial recognition to track, for example, the movement of a person and predict
its actions is prohibited if it is used to make an automated decision16. It is allowed if at the end
of the chain there is a human who makes the decision17.
However, the law may provide for exceptions to this prohibition.18
22.214.171.124. Conditions to be respected
The processing must respect the principles of lawfulness, loyalty and transparency, limitation
of the purposes, minimization of data, accuracy, limitation of storage, integrity and
confidentiality and these same conditions must be checked with the sub-contractors.19
126.96.36.199. Information and access rights
The GDPR provides for a whole series of rights to information and access to data and the non-
portability thereof. The use of this technology must be the subject of easily accessible, broad,
comprehensible and concise information which must make it possible to know the identity of
the controller, the purpose of the processing, its legal basis, the recipients of the data, their
shelf life etc. The controller must also provide a right of access, opposition, limitation,
rectification, erasure of biometric data by those who are the subject.20 (these rights may be
limited by law, in particular for reasons of public security).
3.1.3. The “Police-Justice” Directive
The GDPR and the Police-Justice directive21 both make up the “European package for the
protection of personal data”. They present separate fields of application which are intended to
The Police-Justice Directive establishes rules relating to the protection of individuals with
regard to the processing of personal data by the competent authorities for the purposes of
prevention and detection of criminal offenses, investigations and prosecutions in the matter or
the enforcement of criminal sanctions, including protection against threats to public security
and the prevention of such threats.
The identification of people from biometric data is authorized in case of absolute necessity. It
will take a law to provide for it.
It also provides that the controller must make a clear distinction between the personal data of
different categories of data subjects (culprits, those for whom there are serious grounds to
believe that they have committed or are about to commit). a criminal offense, victims,
3.2. Specific legal treatment of facial recognition
The specificities of facial recognition and its speed of deployment in companies, institutions
and civil society make necessary more detailed interpretations of the conditions which are
fundamental so that an ethical facial recognition can be developed which benefits everyone
without creating new inequalities, without encroaching on public freedoms and without
posing new risks to individuals and collective security.
At the dawn of the third decade of the twenty-first century, the first elements of what could be
a specific legal framework for facial recognition are emerging, while taking into account the
fact that Europe is confronted to a triple challenge in this area: a challenge of technological
and industrial innovation, a challenge of citizen appropriation and a challenge of legal
3.2.1. The European Commission’s regulatory proposals
The European Commission presented its strategy for artificial intelligence by displaying an
ethical approach which it intends to make its marker and its asset, a bit like what happened
with the general regulation on the protection of data (GDPR). Moreover, the Danish
Commissioner Marghrete VESTAGER, in charge of competition and the digital industry, hit
the nail on the head:
“Some say the data is in China and the money is in the United States. But in Europe, we have
the purpose and many things on which we can build (…) My approach is not to make Europe
more like China or the United States, my plan is to make Europe more like itself.” The
European Commission has gone back on its intention for a moment to impose a temporary
ban on the uses of facial recognition.
It published on February 17, 2020 a White Paper devoted to artificial intelligence23 in which it
supports the adoption of a binding text on artificial intelligence, in particular for high-risk
artificial intelligence systems (AIS)24.
Facial recognition for the identification of individuals is considered by the White Paper as a
high risk AIS and should, therefore, be framed by the new regulations envisaged by the
Commission. This one which should lay down binding rules in matters:
control of the data used during training and when using the AIS;
preservation of archives explaining the choice of data and algorithm;
information due to the user, in particular on the purpose of the AIS, its capacities and
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security and accuracy of the AIS, in particular on the reproducibility of its results and
its ability to correct errors;
human action and human control, in particular by validation or appeal by humans of
the decisions taken by the SIA, depending on the case by the possibility of imposing
constraints or by a stop button.
The Commission’s draft White Paper on Artificial Intelligence contains two risk-based
approaches: one for the determination of debtors, the other for the establishment of a
One of the main difficulties generated by artificial intelligence is the traceability of an error
causing damage, due in particular to the diversity of economic actors who are involved in the
life cycle of an artificial intelligence. In order to determine who will be held responsible for
artificial intelligence, the Commission proposes an approach based on the designation of the
person most likely to answer it. Thus, the developer would be most able to respond to the
risks generated during the development phase. However, the responsibility of the user will
prevail during the use phase.
It also refers to the use of a prior assessment of conformity with test, inspection or
certification procedures and ex post control by the competent authorities.
3.2.2. CNIL positions
CNIL, an independent French authority responsible for fundamental rights in the field of
biometric data, issues opinions on draft laws or decrees wishing to authorize the use of facial
recognition for both identification and authentication of people.25
It establishes and publishes standard regulations with a view of ensuring the security of
personal data processing systems and governing the processing of biometric data. In
particular, it has drawn up binding standard regulations on biometrics in the workplace26.
Processing in accordance with the standard regulations mentioned in c of 2 ° of I of article 8
of the Data Protection Act implemented by employers or administrations relate to biometric
data strictly necessary for controlling access to places of work as well as the devices and
applications used in the context of missions entrusted to employees, agents, trainees or service
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188.8.131.52. The requirements of CNIL in terms of testing facial recognition
CNIL does not oppose in principle the use of facial recognition, however it highlights several
requirements to frame the experiment, in particular with regard to respecting the privacy of
For CNIL, it is important that the experiments do not have the purpose or the effect of
accustoming people to intrusive surveillance techniques. While waiting for a legal framework,
it wants to avoid that an experiment that does not require legal authorization to date allows a
habituation by citizens to unnecessary or non-legitimate uses, or even the development of
unwanted uses in any illegality.
An important methodological aspect for CNIL is that the treatments with biometric data are
subject to an impact analysis28 prerequisite which must provide a systematic description of the
processing operations envisaged and their purposes, carry out an assessment of the necessity
and proportionality of the processing operations with regard to the purposes as well as an
assessment of the risks to the rights and freedoms of persons concerned, and indicate the
measures envisaged to deal with these risks29. The impact analysis must be sent to CNIL in the
event of high residual risks despite the measures envisaged by the data controller concerned,
which will generally be the case with facial recognition.
CNIL is favourable to the fact that the experimentation of facial recognition is the subject of a
legal framework and that this framework is the occasion to draw “red lines” of prohibition
beyond which no use, even experimental, would only be admitted. These red lines are in line
with the requirements posed by the aforementioned legal texts, namely: legitimacy of the aims
pursued, minimization of the use of this technology which must be strictly necessary with the
demonstration of the inadequacy of other less intrusive means of security, proportionality of
184.108.40.206. Identification of the strictly necessary nature of facial recognition compared to other
In the case of use of facial recognition to authenticate in the workplace, CNIL requires that
the badge system be not sufficient, that it does not only meet a need for comfort, and that the
premises are particularly sensitive.30
Less intrusive solutions should be preferred. For instance, it was considered illegal to use the
facial recognition system in two high schools of in the South Region. Instead, less intrusive
systems such as badges were preferred and implemented.
SNCF therefore chose not to use a facial recognition system in its stations to identify owners
of abandoned baggage or perpetrators of flagrant crimes, but rather to use a recognition
system through clothing, which is much less intrusive since no biometric data is used to
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identify the person. This system will soon be taken up by the town hall of Nice and that of
According to CNIL, this approach to finding alternative solutions must be systematized in
order to prevent such a highly invasive technology, which generates addiction, from spreading
when it is not essential31.
It is interesting to note that rather than using facial recognition to identify the movements of
people with the SARS-Cov-2 (COVID-19) disease, some countries have used other less
invasive technologies, in particular “contact tracing” solutions, that is, tracking potentially
In France, CNIL agrees that we measure population movements using data from telecom
operators (this is how it was possible to assess that 1.2 million Ile-de-France residents had left
their region at the start of confinement), but she does not agree to establish individual
monitoring, unless this is based on a voluntary approach by the person concerned.
220.127.116.11. Seeking real consent
CNIL recalled on several occasions that consent could only be free “if the processing of data
was strictly necessary for the provision of the service requested by the person, or if an
alternative was actually offered by the controller to the data subject.” The latter implies that
the citizen, the user or the consumer should be able to choose between using a system with
facial recognition or using another system.
This is the case in the Parafe intelligent airlock system, with users being able to choose to
adopt it or go through conventional border control. This freedom should be able to be
exercised over time and not just as long as people get used to using facial recognition. Going
back should also be made possible.
However, how can we be sure that the individual’s consent is “real”? Can the person who
gives his consent be the victim of a lack of information or of a “soft manipulation” (nudge)?
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The alternative solutions proposed, such as for example the smart airlocks in airports, are they
not unbalanced since the solution based on facial recognition is much more effective than any
other (speed, ease of use, etc.)?
Over the years, the waiting time at border crossings has tended to increase due to the
tightening of controls by the authorities and staff which have not changed. How can we
believe that the “progress” generated by the Parafe facial recognition system, in terms of
speed (10-15 seconds versus 30-45 seconds for the old fingerprint system) and security could
be rejected by the vast majority of users? We have to face the facts: facial recognition
solutions, applied to smart airlocks at airports or to other security control procedures, will
impose themselves easily and irreversibly as soon as they undoubtedly translate into gains.
performance and cost reductions.
3.3. Technical measures for securing data or algorithms
Facial recognition technology, as we have seen, has its ramifications throughout the economy
and civil society. Police around the world are implementing programs using cameras to scan
crowds at matches in football stadiums, festivals, and street protests, with the aim of
identifying persons suspected of an offense. For their part, the digital giants are shamelessly
entering the game: Facebook relies on facial recognition to label our photos automatically;
Snapchat uses it to overlay fun animations on our face; Apple uses it to unlock our cell phones
via FaceID (its facial verification system); Amazon uses an image analysis system,
Rekognition, which allows, between other things, real-time facial recognition among tens of
millions of faces.
Regulators around the world recognize the importance of respecting privacy and require that
“personally identifiable information” (PII) be protected, hence the European General Data
Protection Regulation (GDPR, 2016) , the law passed by the United States of Illinois on the
protection of biometric information (Biometric Information Privacy Act, or BIPA, 2008), or
the American law on portability and liability in health insurance (Health Insurance Portability
and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, 1996). Under the GDPR, facial images are sensitive
personal data which are subject to requirements and restrictions. Companies are therefore
encouraged to use technical measures to comply with the principles of the GDPR, including
default confidentiality, the right to be forgotten or even the protection of privacy by design.
In addition to the regulatory arsenal, technical measures to limit attacks on privacy, personal
data and public freedoms are beginning to be implemented.
The risk of theft or misuse of use will be limited if the biometric data is stored by the person
himself. This is the case in the Parafe system since the biometric data is contained in the chip
integrated in the biometric passport, which makes it possible to limit the risks of data theft.
In addition, the shorter the data retention period, the less important the risk of theft or misuse
of use: in the Parafe system, the images collected are deleted as soon as they are compared
with the image scanned and stored in the passport.
It will also be necessary to systematically detect biases in the databases and in the algorithms
in the event of machine learning and correct them regularly so as to prevent undue
There are ways to limit cyber security risks:
•the use of dedicated computers accessible only in secure premises (badge required,
•partitioned video networks (by VLAN etc.);
•installing antivirus and other protection on computers;
•dedicated workstations, connected to secure networks;
•the use of dedicated and trained staff;
•strict control of the providers accessing the data;
•data traceability and logging;
•internal archiving and maintenance.
We are only at the beginning of innovation in the fields of security and cybersecurity
concerning facial recognition algorithms and artificial intelligence systems in general. In the
near future, companies will not only have to scrupulously respect the laws, more or less
severe depending on the country and no doubt ever-evolving, but also to develop an arsenal of
specific protections combining technical, organizational and management measures.
4. Facial recognition and democratic life
4.1. The launch of national and European debates
A consensus seems to exist, at least in Europe, on the point that the questions relating to the
analysis of the faces, in particular by the use of deep learning, should not remain only in the
hands of the engineers and the companies. AI confers powers hitherto inaccessible which
justify that facial recognition, which carries the risk of mass surveillance, is the subject of an
open, inclusive and participative debate.
European Commission supports European debate
The European Commission launched a consultation on February 19, 2020, which notably
focused on the specific circumstances enabling the use of facial recognition to be identified to
identify people in public places as well as on the common guarantees to be put in place. This
consultation will end on May 31, 2020.
CNIL favours a national debate
CNIL wishes to contribute to the debate on facial recognition with several objectives32:
•clarify the subject of the debate for all citizens by presenting what facial recognition is
technically and what it is used for;
•highlight the technological, ethical, societal risks linked to this technology, by
showing in particular that facial recognition can become a particularly ubiquitous and
intrusive tool and that data breach or any misuse can generate significant risks
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(blocking of access to a service, identity theft, etc.); risk assessment is therefore
essential to determine which are not acceptable in a democratic society and which can
be assumed with appropriate guarantees;
•recall the principles that must frame practices: placing respect for people at the heart
of the systems, for example by obtaining their consent and guaranteeing them control
of their data and access to information; compliance with these principles, which
comply with the GDPR, has already led CNIL to admit certain uses while framing
their practical methods (border controls at airports, control of access to the Nice
carnival) and to refuse the use of others (access control of pupils in educational
The launch of a broad public debate on what may be exceptional circumstances justifying the
use of biometrics will be very useful, but on condition that this debate is not limited to
identification by facial recognition but also intended to reflect on the issues related to
authentication and categorization by facial recognition. It should allow all stakeholders in
civil society to make their voices heard.
4.2. Democratic guarantees of power
As a result of these democratic debates, it should be possible to list the safe use cases, the use
cases subject to prior authorization and the use cases prohibited except in exceptional
Use cases subject to prior authorization must be examined by independent ethics committees
within the Member States, made up of stakeholders and chaired for example by senior
magistrates from the seat, these committees working as a network between them. They can
rely on their analysis of the seven principles decreed by the European Commission in 2018:
•human factor and human control: AI systems should be the vectors of equitable
societies by putting themselves at the service of humans and fundamental rights,
without restricting or deviating human autonomy;
•robustness and security: a trustworthy AI requires algorithms that are sufficiently safe,
reliable and robust to manage errors or inconsistencies in all phases of the life cycle of
•respect for private life and data governance: citizens must have total control over their
personal data and data concerning them must not be used against them for harmful or
•transparency: the traceability of AI systems must be ensured;
•diversity, non-discrimination and equity: AI systems should consider the full range of
human capacities, skills and needs, and their accessibility should be guaranteed;
•societal and environmental well-being: AI systems should be used to support positive
social developments and strengthen sustainability and ecological responsibility;
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•Accountability: mechanisms should be put in place to ensure accountability for AI
systems and their results, and be made accountable.
The prohibited use cases can only be developed for a limited period of time due to exceptional
circumstances of general interest, security or public health which must be voted by
parliaments, respecting the essential content of rights and freedoms of the European
Convention on Human Rights, be necessary, proportional and subject to the supervision of a
Public auditors should be dispatched to verify that use cases are not diverted and that
decisions made within the framework of ethical committees are respected.
Facial recognition technology has entered our societies in a fairly subversive way, without
real democratic control, without open and prior debates that can circulate, beyond the
microcosm of well-informed stakeholders, essential knowledge from the point of view of
respect and fundamental human rights. It has imposed itself within a few years at the
confluence of technological advances in the field of artificial intelligence and the rapid
evolution of needs in the vast space of areas of general interest (safety, mobility and transport,
It would be pointless to pretend to ignore that, as history shows, when a technology becomes
available, it ends up being used. However, this does not mean that its use should be left to the
whim of anyone, for any purpose, and under any conditions.
In democratic countries, a consensus is emerging in favour of experimentation phases in
various use cases, limited in time and in their field of application, in order to inform public
debates and guide decision-making.
In the absence of such experiments, we most often find ourselves in situations where the use
of facial recognition remains prohibited by law even as local authorities grant more and more
exceptions by issuing permits. on an experimental basis.
This article indicated that our societies were faced with a triple challenge: a challenge of
technological and industrial innovation, a challenge of citizen appropriation and a challenge
of legal regulation. These three challenges must be considered at the same time without one
ignoring the other two or minimizing their importance. Compared to the important challenge
of privacy, the technological strategies of the countries of Asia at the time of the outbreak of
the COVID-19 epidemic were denounced in Europe, less in the United States, because of their
incompatibility with our “values” and our laws.
However, the current pandemic as well as other global challenges – climate change,
desertification (one third of the total land area), migratory movements, demographic changes,
shortages of resources (water, sand, foodstuffs, etc.) – converge to lead us to think that we are
witnessing a change of civilization. We are witnessing an “acceleration of history” which
forces us to revise our concepts, prejudices, strategies, at the risk of endangering humanity.
Individual freedoms, and the fundamental rights that support them, are obviously a legacy of
history that humanity must preserve. But wouldn't it be time to also realize to what extent the
human person, being singular, also constitutes a node of relations with the others and the
planet, which makes him the holder of a share of responsibility vis-à-vis not only generations
of humans around him but also of the human species, and therefore vis-à-vis future