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Digital wave by Victor de Castro

Victor de Castro, a doctor and specialist in digital health, analyses how the limits of mass surveillance have been pushed back even further. And he asks how to balance health and freedom.

At the end of December 2019, I reported in the same newsletter on medical advances based on the improvement of facial recognition algorithms (1).

In March, Optic Technology's Lab222 organised a "Faraday Room Night" dedicated to facial recognition in public places (2).

Today, even if the news has mainly focused on contact-tracing via smartphone, facial recognition is preparing its next step in the surveillance of populations in the context of infectious epidemics.

Thus, several specialised companies have recently upgraded their image analysis software, allowing not only an evaluation of body temperature, but also identification despite the wearing of a face mask (3,4,5).

These systems, based on facial recognition technology preferred to other biometric "contact" biometric identification technologies that are losing momentum and at risk of viral dissemination (fingerprint or retinal analysis), can accurately identify up to 5 people within a radius of 2 metres in real time.

In China and Russia, the coupling of these systems with other means of identification is being developed identification documents such as discharge permits or health certificates electronic (6,7), or even quarantine contact tracing (8,9), has pushed the limits of mass surveillance to levels that would have been considered unacceptable only a few weeks ago.

Fears linked to the impact of the pandemic and the resilience of populations have been able to justify and allow the progressive deployment of more or less intrusive mass surveillance in more than 25 countries (10).

Let us hope that this digital wave, whose effectiveness is questionable and disputed, but which today takes with it a part of individual liberties and our humanity, will be able to regain momentum with the resolution of this pandemic episode.


(1) Souriez, vous êtes dépisté. Victor de Castro. Optic Technology - Dec 21,2020.

(2) La reconnaissance faciale dans les lieux publics, tous fliqués ? Eric Meillan& Raphaël de Cormis. Lab222 - March 12, 2020.

(3) Fever detection technology added to biometric hardware by Dermalog,Telpo, DFI, Hikvision and Kogniz. Chris Burt. Biometric Update - April 02,2020. hardware-by-dermalog-telpo-dfi-hikvision-and-kogniz

(4) Even mask-wearers can be ID'd, China facial recognition firm says. MartinPollard. Reuters - March 09, 2020.

(5) Updated Herta Facial Recognition Can Identify People Wearing Masks.Tony Bitzionis. Find Biometrics - March 13, 2020. people-wearing-masks-031301/

(6) 'The new normal': China's excessive coronavirus public monitoring couldbe here to stay. Lily Kuo. The Guardian - March 09, 2020. coronavirus-public-monitoring-could-be-here-to-stay

(7) China rolls out software surveillance for the COVID-19 pandemic,alarming human rights advocates. Ali Dukakis. ABC News - April 14, 2020. alarming/story?id=70131355

(8) Coronavirus: Russia uses facial recognition to tackle Covid-19. SarahRainsford. BBC News - April 04, 2020. recognition-to-tackle-covid-19

(9) Moscow rolls out digital tracking to enforce lockdown. Critics dub it a'cyber Gulag’. Mary Ilyushina. CNN - April 14, 2020.

(10) Growth in surveillance may be hard to scale back after pandemic, expertssay. Andrew Roth in Moscow, Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington, DanielBoffey in Brussels, Oliver Holmes in Jerusalem and Helen Davidson in Sydney.The Guardian - April 14, 2020. scale-back-after-coronavirus-pandemic-experts-say

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