The SNCF has been trialling surveillance tools from domestic and foreign companies at railway stations in France since 2017. Last year, parliament even extended these possibilities.
Between 2017 and 2021, the French railway company SNCF trialled at least 19 different methods to improve video surveillance. Further similar tests were carried out from 2022, as reported by the internet magazine Mediapart last week. With the help of algorithms and artificial intelligence, the technology should automatically recognise wanted persons or dangerous situations and sound an alarm. The pilot projects have been approved by the French National Commission for Informatics and Liberties (CNIL).
According to Mediapart, the SNCF has 17,000 cameras in railway stations and 45,000 more on its trains. The tests were not carried out across the board, but at major railway stations in Paris, Lyon and Marseille, among others. For the various projects, the railway company used technology from domestic and foreign market leaders, including French companies Thales and Atos. According to the report, further tests were carried out in Caen in northern France in 2017 with an application from the Israeli company Briefcam. The administrative court subsequently judged the use of this software to be a serious and obviously unlawful invasion of privacy.
A controversial application from the Israeli company Anyvision – renamed Oosto in 2021 – was also tested. Its surveillance software can allegedly recognise people in video data based on their gait or clothing. High-ranking employees of Anyvision previously held important positions in the Israeli military and the foreign intelligence service. Following an investigation into the use of Anyvision technology in the West Bank, the Microsoft Group decided to sell its shares in the company.
The Olympics will take place in France this year, before which the parliament passed the controversial “Olympic Games” law in May 2023. It authorises the testing and use of previously banned technology until 2025. Contrary to original plans, this does not include facial recognition, which was ensured by nationwide protests and objections from the data protection authority, among other things. However, the police, gendarmerie and SNCF are allowed to use intelligent cameras at sporting and cultural events to try and recognise unattended luggage, mass movements and the carrying of a weapon.
Ten of the tested systems were rated by the SNCF with a performance level of less than 50 per cent. The “Directorate for Security Companies and Partnerships and Weapons” of the Ministry of the Interior, which was involved in the tests, is also sceptical about the results, particularly with regard to the detection of weapons. “The two solutions implemented have shown unsatisfactory results in all test scenarios, with detection rates of almost zero and dozens of false alarms,” the authority is quoted as saying.
In 2017, Deutsche Bahn and the German Federal Police also began testing “intelligent” video surveillance software and hardware. Facial recognition from various providers was used at the Berlin railway station Südkreuz. Like SNCF, Deutsche Bahn also trialled applications from Anyvision and Briefcam from Israel. The rail company and the police rated the project as successful, but critics pointed to a high rate of “false hits”. This means that hundreds of people could be identified as supposedly dangerous and harassed by the police every day.
Following the tests with biometric software, the German railway and Federal Police wanted to try out further technology for recognising dangerous situations at Südkreuz. Of interest were the automated detection of unattended objects and entry into prohibited areas as well as the counting and tracking of people. Even before the start, the railway board stopped the project at the beginning of 2019, with a company spokesperson explaining to the newspaper “Wirtschaftswoche” that they wanted to work on more urgent construction sites.
Published in German in „nd“.