The French Interior Ministry announced in October plans to deploy facial recognition for enrollment into its national digital identification program dubbed Alicem, making France the first European country to use face biometrics technology for a secure digital identity.
However, France’s Secretary of State for Digital, Cédric O, is hesitant about this project actually taking off, according to an interview with Le Parisien, yet he does hint that there will be “an online identity solution” with facial recognition.
Alicem would work as a smartphone application which for now is only available on Android. When the initiative was announced, the country’s data regulator CNIL feared Alicem would violate rule of consent guaranteed by GDPR. While the initial launch date was planned for November, no broader deployment is planned, according to Cédric O. The application is still being tested, while the National Digital Council and a parliamentary mission are still consulting about it. The new given date for deployment or mid-2021.
When asked if there was a chance for the project to be completely dropped, Cédric O said there would still be plans for an online identity solution to be deployed across the country, but at this moment it is uncertain if it is going to be Alicem or another system with similar or different technical features. For users who would rather not use the facial recognition feature, the Secretary of State for Digital says an alternative will be made available, possibly a physical in-person registration at an office.
He emphasizes the importance of matching the person to the identity document, correspondence which has to be certified either through facial recognition or face-to-face. There are also other biometric solutions such as fingerprints, but O believes there could be security risks at the sensor level and the only biometric identification tool that can’t be falsified is facial recognition.
O assures residents that the government will not keep facial biometric data. The application will use liveness detection to make sure a real person is in front of the camera and not a photo. Images are then sent and compared in a ANTS server. When confirmation is received, O say the images are destroyed.
At this very moment, Alicem allows identification with France Connect which enables access to some public services, but the solution is not yet fully available. O would like to see digital identity with a high level of certification implemented in both state and private services such as healthcare, opening a bank account or accessing online gaming services.
Real-time facial recognition on video surveillance images has not yet been considered because it would be in violation with GDPR which forbids the use of facial recognition without explicit user consent, O explains. The government is interested in such an experiment that would include supervision from civil society for real performance feedback. O is hoping a public debate will take place in the near future in France to openly discuss use cases for everyday life and security, and how public liberties could be affected.