AI Surveillance — Paris Plots Orwellian Olympics

France takes the audacious decision to spy on lakhs of people during the 2024 Olympic Games in the capital city

Nadim Siraj

June 13, 2023: “Always eyes watching you. Asleep or awake, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or bed: no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres in your skull.” These chilling lines are from Nineteen Eighty-Four, British novelist George Orwell’s famous book that was written in 1949. Now, fast forward to 2024. The celebrated city of Paris, where everyone wants to visit at least once in their lifetime, will turn Orwell’s fictional dystopia into a reality.

Paris is dressing up to host the Summer Olympics next year. But this time, it won’t be just another edition of the much-awaited Games. It will be the start of a new abnormal, a new dark era, of mass surveillance never seen before. From July 26 to August 11 in 2024, the French government will turn Paris into a giant laboratory of espionage. And it will happen officially and legally.


Paris Olympics surveillance

For the first time, artificial intelligence technology will be used to conduct full-spectrum video surveillance on lakhs of unsuspecting people. People who will visit Paris to watch and participate in the Olympic Games. Every individual will be watched by Emmanuel Macron’s surveillance-crazy government. Big Brother, to borrow the famous term from Orwell’s book, will track each and every move. People’s body language, their activities, and their physical interactions – everything will be recorded. And that data will be analysed real-time by a shady AI technology that the government doesn’t want the press and the people to know about in detail.

Essentially, Paris will become a hardcore police state. The city will be flooded with hidden cameras and public-view CCTV cameras. Streets. Shopping areas. Venues. Public squares. Public transport. Parking areas. Visiting delegations. Athletes. Journalists. Volunteers. Lakhs of tourists. Lakhs of locals. Migrants. Minorities. Dissidents. Protesters. Even high-profile guests – the French version of Orwell’s Big Brother will watch everybody.

The French government has given a bogus excuse for the alarming spying project. It says it wants to use AI technology to ensure that the Olympic Games take place safely and securely. It says AI will help it spot unusual behavioural patterns and unusual movements among people in Paris. And that, we are told, will help French intelligence and French police to take cautionary steps.

France’s dirty past

Now, the question is: is the safe conduct of the Games a genuine justification for turning a tourist-friendly city into a surveillance state? Is it alright to snoop into the lives of lakhs of innocent sports lovers? What is the guarantee that the French security forces will not have biases? We all know that France has a dirty past of bullying its minority people and migrant population. Will French cops become more hostile towards non-Whites and migrants?

In March this year, when French lawmakers happily okayed the ‘Olympic surveillance bill’, there was a strong pushback. Some French parliamentarians raised an alarm. But then, they were selfish enough to just stop at that, and didn’t step down from the National Assembly, the country’s parliament. The new law was challenged legally as well, but the high court firmly supported it and dismissed the challenge.

The surveillance law has drawn a wave of criticism from international activists and various human rights bodies. They argue that the world’s biggest sporting event will become the most significant episode of human rights and privacy rights abuse because of the AI-based mass surveillance programme.

The European Union, which often stands up against privacy violations on European soil, questioned the move. It recently shot off a warning letter to the French parliament. In the letter, the EU said France is setting a surveillance example of the kind never seen before in Europe, and it is using the Olympics as a pretext.

Amnesty, Human Rights Watch

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are two pro-Western watchdogs that routinely ignore violations committed in G7 countries. But in this case, both of them slammed the French ambitions.  

London-based Amnesty says the French government has effectively decided to counter the European Union’s efforts to control the penetration of AI in our life. It fears that the tracking programme can permanently turn France into a dystopian surveillance state. And it can set the stage for large-scale violations of human rights.

New York-based Human Rights Watch is worried that the Olympics project can later set the stage for biometric spying of humans in France. It argues that the new plan is a step towards ‘normalising’ the use of exceptional surveillance powers.

2023 Rugby World Cup

In fact, there’s an even deeper problem with the French plan. The government keeps saying that it has been brought in only for the safe conduct of the Olympics. But they’re simply lying to the world. The law will actually come into effect this year itself. In September and October this year, France will host the Rugby World Cup. The government has decided to test this new surveillance system on the people at that time. All nine venues where the World Cup matches will be played will be placed under AI-based surveillance.

Also, the surveillance law says that the snooping project will continue right up to March 2025, which is well after the 2024 Olympics! What does that tell you? Clearly, it’s not exclusively about protecting the Olympic Games. Authorities have said the law will come into force in the coming months at various French festivals, large gatherings, and special public events. Basically, any place involving more than 300 people will be placed under surveillance under the new law.

All this simply means the 2024 Olympics is only an excuse. French people and visitors to France, especially in Paris, will soon start living in an undeclared police state. You won’t be told so, however, because the mainstream media will be tutored to portray the surveillance programme to you positively.

National Gendarmerie

The truth about modern-day France is that no matter how blindly people love and worship the country, it is already an undeclared police state. France is one of few countries that has a formal military wing patrolling the streets as policemen. There’s something called a National Police force that mans the big cities, including Paris. But thousands of small towns and villages are all patrolled mainly by the militarised police force. It’s called the National Gendarmerie. The military cops are often criticised by human rights groups for carrying out brutal crackdowns on migrants and minorities.

Well, it’s true that France has seen multiple heinous terror attacks over the last decade. But then, the French forces have also reacted in equally inhuman ways, routinely targeting non-White residents and making them feel uneasy and unwelcome, instead of focusing on addressing the root of terrorism.

Two years back, the French parliament presented what is called the ‘national domestic security bill’. It instantly sparked a huge nationwide debate. There were fears that neighbourhood police personnel would become more armed and militarised, and therefore, more intrusive. There would be a lot more surveillance, police body cameras, use of spy drones, and a lot of armed private security firms. The bill ostensibly tried to protect French police from dissidents and critics. But it paved the way for a police state.

CCTV cameras

In fact, surveillance of the common people has morphed into a huge problem in France. It is estimated that the country’s video surveillance industry would grow steadily over the next few years. The main push in the rising numbers is going to come from the government, which wants to implement advanced video surveillance technologies, such as facial recognition. As of last year, France had 1.65 million or 16.5 lakh CCTV cameras installed in the country – which is quite a lot.

It wasn’t a surprise when France signed a major surveillance technology deal with Taiwan in April this year. As part of the agreement, French companies will help Taiwan build state-of-the-art surveillance drones. Well, it’s natural for the French corporations to be doing this, given their government’s fascination for spying on its own people.

The whole problem lies in the government’s decision to tell the world and its own people that – look guys, we don’t trust you for anything. So, we will spy on all of you. And now that we have AI, we will use the best of modern technology to do that.

Big Brother is watching you

And what is the deep impact of this blatant, Big Brother-style surveillance? If you feel you are being watched and your movements are being filmed, you will always be on the backfoot, isn’t it? With surveillance comes the increasing militarisation of police. Once that social environment becomes the new abnormal, you won’t feel like moving around freely, or expressing critical opinion.

You will lose command over your private life for the sake of so-called national security. Once that happens, you will lose your natural tendency to stand up for your rights. Without even realising it, you will become a part of Oceania, which was the fictional setting of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

French presidents often lecture the world about human rights, freedom, and free speech. But by cleverly using the 2024 Olympics as a stepping stone, France is all geared up to turn its capital city into Orwell’s Oceania.

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