Bondi Blog: You claim that public space surveillance is complete, can you start with a stock of existing systems?
Arthur Mesaud, lawyer for La Quadrechar du Net: To achieve this general surveillance, several systems are integrated. First, there are video surveillance cameras: about one million of them are deployed in the area. These have for some time been associated with artificial intelligence software that allows police to perform body and face analysis to detect “unwanted” behavior.
In this file, 8 million faces are listed
You also condemn the mass filing of the population that is used to develop facial recognition …
Yes, of course! Since 2012, the state has created two mega-files: TAJ [traitement des antécédents judiciaires, NLDR] Whose number is 19 million people. This includes criminals or accomplices of crime, misdemeanors, but victims of crime or suspects and non-convicted persons. In this file, 8 million faces are listed. To accurately determine a person’s identity and background, police are likely to compare these faces to CCTV images, pictures taken on social networks, or even during identity verification.
This general surveillance of public space actually matches a prey for the poor.
Are you saying that the widespread use of facial recognition by the police has already become a reality since 2012?
Facial recognition tools for interrogation of TAJ are increasingly being used by law enforcement. In 2021, police made 498,871 requests for face recognition, up from 375,747 in 2019, according to Interior Ministry figures, confirmed by a parliamentary report. This means that this technology is used an average of 1300 times a day! At the moment, this is no longer a test.
Directed by Sylvain Louvet and Ludovic Gaillard, the documentary is seen by all: 7 billion suspects won the Albert London Award in 2020.
In November 2020, you filed an appeal with the Council of State to ban face recognition in the TAJ file. You relied on the absence of absolute necessity. Why did the Council of State reject your application?
The snake bites its own tail. The Council of State says that given the number of people listed in the file, it is impossible for police to make such comparisons manually. So thanks to the public submission that the state council legalizes the use of algorithmic facial recognition. But we say: “You have created a monster that now allows you to justify these excesses against public liberties! “On the other hand, what the state council tells us is that, in reality, if the police do something, you have to go to CNIL. [Commission nationale informatique et libertés, NDLR]. What are we going to do so that the commission investigates this excess of freedom-killing.
In the autumn, La Quadrecher du Net aims to file a joint complaint with CNIL. Are you invading the French state and are you asking for it?
There are several aspects to this joint allegation before CNIL, but the main attack is the complete absence of a legal framework for verbal recognition used by the police. No judge approves it, the public is not informed, and no subsequent control is exercised. We know that no legal framework can be established because it specifies public surveillance tools that do not allow case-by-case control. We therefore call for an end to the use of facial recognition and the removal of faces from TAJ files. With this type of technology, it is the rule of law that disappears.
Against the camera, algorithmic video surveillance), against registration and facial recognition, we have to file a complaint against the Ministry of Home Affairs together as much as possible.
Join us, talk about it around you -> https://t.co/9M7yozfSmN
– La Quadretre du Net (laquadrature) June 9, 2022
How can citizens be integrated into these surveillance questions, which are somewhat abstract and which we do not want to know?
Above all, the challenge is to keep this generalized surveillance in the public debate. Since everything is done with opacity, so that no scandal occurs and no law in question is discussed. It is true that in our imagination, surveillance is invisible. To put it bluntly, people expect it to be dramatic, with fire everywhere or Skynet controlling the world. But in reality, extensive surveillance is already here. Our information and awareness campaign uses a legal argument as an excuse to illustrate a very real conflict: the government, the police and the industrialists are against the people and against public liberties. All we want is to discourage our opponents, and in real life it works! It has already worked against GAFAM.
When we think of mass surveillance, we think of the Black Mirror series or the policy implemented by China, not necessarily France …
That’s exactly the problem. This horrible science fiction has caught on without being able to talk about it and therefore not being able to fight it. Series like the Black Mirror, it gives people a landmark on the far horizon. They say to themselves: “Oh, that’s right, we’re not in the Black Mirror.” However, there are already issues that concern us, such as mass surveillance or the universality of artificial intelligence. Same for China, this is the argument of politicians who say: “In France, we have the RGPD [Règlement Général sur la Protection des Données, NDLR], It’s not China. Behind the scenes, the country is racing to acquire the best surveillance technology for fear of becoming the third world of artificial intelligence.
Three years ago, you launched the Technopolis initiative to identify new policing technology installed in cities. How extensive is this algorithmic surveillance?
The city is becoming a place where agents from a control tower decide which behavior is acceptable and which will be prohibited. We have identified about fifty cities in France that are in the process of setting up Algorithmic Video Surveillance (VSA) projects. This software installed on the camera is capable of analyzing the flow of images and alerting the police if they detect “unwanted” behavior. It could be a young man sitting on a bench, people tagging, conducting campaigns or others who have been stationary for too long.
This general surveillance of public space coincides with a prey for the poor
But the software is unable to detect attacks, crimes or sexual harassment because it cannot train machines with standard images. They are not trained to identify white-collar crimes, but to target the poorest, the marginalized, for whom the road is the only possible place of socialization. This general surveillance of public space is in fact a prey for the poor by government authorities.
CCTV cameras don’t help reduce violations, they can’t even solve investigations, so remove them!
What are your strategies for combating these technologies whose use is still in its infancy and limited?
In fact, it is very complicated. The opacity of the system makes the task difficult. So in order to fight against mass surveillance on the streets, we have to attack the roots, we have to monitor the video. The manufacturers argued that the algorithmic video surveillance was meant for town halls: “You have installed so many cameras that are useless, you can add artificial intelligence to predict and detect suspicious behavior”. So we would like to argue that all research has shown that (those who are gendarmeries, court auditors), video surveillance cameras do not reduce crime, not even solve the investigation, so remove them!
The 2024 Olympic Games will serve to test the population with these technologies
The fight against insecurity, crime and terrorism generally justifies the generalization of surveillance. If video surveillance is so ineffective, why and how would you explain such an installation?
That’s a real question! Why do mayors buy cameras when they know they’re useless? Maybe the criminals don’t see the camera, on the other hand the voters are paying attention to them. In addition, it costs less to implement a social policy aimed at building a school or nursery. This allows mayors to give the impression at low cost that they are taking action.
Every festival is an opportunity for the government to accustom the people with this perfect surveillance.
And then, gradually, the presence of cameras on the streets became the norm, and people became accustomed to it. It was as if every moment of a ceremony or festival was an opportunity for the government to accustom people to this perfect surveillance. In this sense, the 2024 Olympic Games will create a laboratory for technological experimentation to bring French art to the world’s attention, but also a social experiment to test how the population is positioned with these technologies. Obviously, if your face is scanned for going to a concert or stadium, you will have less desire to destroy gates than to scan before you arrive at an exhibition. This is not the time to celebrate, to think about police brutality or state authoritarianism. And this is where it becomes dangerous.