An investigative report by Disclose has exposed that French national police have been using the Israeli facial recognition software Briefcam since 2015, a practice explicitly prohibited by French law. Disclose claims to have obtained internal emails and documents from the French national police, revealing the covert utilization of Briefcam without sufficient legal grounds.
According to the report, in 2015, French law enforcement authorities secretly acquired the video surveillance image analysis software from the Israeli company Briefcam. The Ministry of the Interior allegedly concealed the usage of this tool, enabling facial recognition, for eight years.
Euractiv reached out to relevant authorities for comments, including the French data privacy watchdog (CNIL), the French Digital Ministry, the Ministry of the Interior, and the general directorate of the national police (DGPN). However, no responses were provided at the time of publication.
If confirmed, the use of Briefcam would constitute a breach of the French Informatics and Freedom law updated in 2019, which strictly forbids the use of any biometric identification system and facial recognition techniques. The prohibition aligns with the 2018 enforcement of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which prohibits the processing of all biometric data, including facial images.
Disclose alleges that the Ministry of the Interior is aware of the police’s use of the Israeli software. A high-ranking official within the national public security directorate reportedly sent an email to superiors explicitly stating, “Regardless of the software used (particularly Briefcam), it is prohibited to turn to any face-matching or facial recognition device.”
Florian Leibovici, Briefcam’s Europe sales director, disclosed that police stations in over a hundred municipalities in France are utilizing the software. Briefcam’s capabilities include detecting, tracking, extracting, classifying, and alerting on persons-of-interest appearing in video surveillance footage in real-time or forensically.
French MP and board member of the French data protection watchdog, Philippe Latombe, raised concerns about the potential legal breaches. Latombe presented different scenarios, ranging from acceptable use under judicial oversight to severe violations of mass surveillance prohibitions under EU and French law.
As the controversy unfolds, questions persist about how facial recognition is conducted and by whom. The investigation suggests that, based on current information, the French police may have been using Briefcam for specific, post hoc inquiries with the oversight of a judge.