France is using AI to check whether people wear masks on public transport

France is integrating new AI tools into security cameras in the Paris metro system to check if passengers are wearing masks. The software has been deployed elsewhere in the country and began a three-month trial this week at chatelet-Les Halles station in central Paris, Bloomberg reported. DatakaLab, the French start-up that created the program, says its aim is not to identify or punish people who don’t wear masks, but to generate anonymous statistics that help authorities predict future OUTBREAKs of COVID-19.

The pilot is one of a series of measures launched by cities around the world as they begin to ease the blockade and allow people to return to work. Although France, like the United States, initially discouraged citizens from wearing masks, France has now mandated that they wear them on public transport. It is even considering imposing a fine of 135 euros ($145) on people found not wearing masks on subways, trains, buses or taxis.

The introduction of AI software to monitor and possibly implement these measures is closely watched. AI-powered surveillance and facial recognition software has worried many privacy advocates, but now that the new crown outbreak is a direct threat, the government may feel that the threat is more important than the danger of personal privacy. However, DatakaLab insists its software is privacy-conscious and in line with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The company has been selling AI-driven video analytics software for years, using it to generate demographic data on customers for stores and malls.

The software is now lightweight enough to work anywhere installed, which means no data will be sent to the cloud or DatakaLab’s office. Instead, the software generates statistics about how many people are seen wearing masks within 15 minutes. The company has integrated the software into buses in the southern French city of Cannes. It adds a small CPU to the existing CCTV cameras installed on buses to process video in real time. When the bus returns to the parking area at night, it connects to Wi-Fi and transmits the data to the local traffic department.

France is using AI to check whether people wear masks on public transport