France Set to Implement Nationwide Facial Recognition ID Program

The move has seen opposition from both France’s data regulator and a privacy group.
Loukia Papadopoulos

France is set to become the first European country to use facial recognition technology to give citizens a secure digital identity. The move has been deemed risky as there are privacy questions at stake.


A more efficient state

The government claims the new program is meant to make the state more efficient. Dubbed Alicem, an acronym for “certified online authentification on mobile," the application is said to enable “any individual who decides to use it to prove his identity on the internet in a secure manner,” says the interior ministry website.

It is set for roll out in November, after an experimental six-month test phase. This date is earlier than an initial Christmas target.

However, it is not without opposition. France’s data regulator, CNIL, claims the program breaches the European rule of consent and the program is being challenged in France’s highest administrative court by privacy group La Quadrature du Net.

The program functions through an app that reads the chip on an electronic passport. The app then cross-references its biometric photo with the phone user via facial recognition to confirm the identity.

A scary thought

This process is scary to many as earlier this year a hacker broke into a government messaging app in just little over an hour.

“The government wants to funnel people to use Alicem and facial recognition. We’re heading into mass usage of facial recognition. (There’s) little interest in the importance of consent and choice,” Martin Drago, lawyer for La Quadrature du Net told Bloomberg.

However, France has tried to reassure the public by stating that the footage used for facial recognition will be erased “within seconds” after registration and will not be integrated into citizens’ identity databases. The move is simply meant to develop “digital identities” that can give citizens secure and easy access to everything from their taxes to utility bills.

“The widespread use of an equivalent of a public DNA is a challenge for regulators,” told Bloomberg Patrick Van Eecke, a privacy and data specialist at DLA Piper in Brussels. “You can look at France’s use of facial recognition for digital identity in two ways: it goes too far in terms of privacy, or they’re using the most secure new technology. Are they a front-runner or are they overstepping the mark?”

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