Against widespread surveillance, La Quadrature du Net launches a collective complaint – Bondy Blog

Bondy Blog: You claim that the surveillance of public space is total, could you start by making an inventory of the systems currently in place?

Arthur Messaud, lawyer for La Quadrature du Net: To achieve this general surveillance, several systems combine. First of all, there are video surveillance cameras: there are almost a million of them deployed on the territory. These have for some time been coupled with artificial intelligence software that allows police to analyze bodies and faces to detect “undesirable” behavior.

In this file, 8 million faces are listed

You also denounce the mass filing of the population which is used to develop facial recognition…

Yes exactly ! Since 2012, the State has set up two mega-files: the TAJ [traitement des antécédents judiciaires, NLDR] which counts 19 million people. It includes perpetrators or accomplices of crimes, misdemeanors, but also victims of offenses or persons suspected and not convicted. In this file, 8 million faces are listed. The police have the possibility of comparing these faces with CCTV images, photos taken on social networks or even during identity checks, to precisely determine the identity of a person as well as their background.

This generalized surveillance of the public space actually corresponds to a hunt for the poor.

Are you saying that the massive use of facial recognition by the police has already been a reality since 2012?

The facial recognition tool for interrogating the TAJ is increasingly used by law enforcement. According to figures from the Ministry of the Interior, confirmed by a parliamentary report, 498,871 requests for facial recognition were made by the police in 2021, compared to 375,747 in 2019. Which means that this technology is used on average 1,300 times a day! At this point, it is no longer an experiment.

Directed by Sylvain Louvet and Ludovic Gaillard, the documentary All watched: 7 billion suspects won the Albert London Prize in 2020.

In November 2020, you filed an appeal with the Council of State to ban facial recognition in the TAJ file. You relied on the absence of absolute necessity. Why has the Council of State just dismiss your appeal ?

It is the serpent biting its own tail. The Council of State says that given the number of people listed in this file, it is impossible for the police to manually carry out such a comparison of images. It is therefore thanks to mass filing that the Council of State validates the use of algorithmic facial recognition. But we say: “You have created a monster which now allows you to justify these excesses against public freedoms! “. On the other hand, what the Council of State tells us is that if, in practice, the police do anything, you have to go to the CNIL [Commission nationale informatique et libertés, NDLR]. What we are going to do so that the Commission investigates these freedom-killing excesses.

In the streets, the campaign for the collection of signatures online should last all summer.

By the fall, La Quadrature du Net aims to file a collective complaint with the CNIL. What are you attacking the French state on and what are you asking of it?

This collective complaint before the CNIL has several aspects, but the main attack is the total absence of a legal framework for facial recognition used by the police. No judge authorizes it, people are not informed, and no control is done a posteriori. We know that no legal framework can be put in place because it is the specificity of mass surveillance tools that do not allow case-by-case control. So we are calling for the end of the use of facial recognition and the removal of faces from the TAJ file. With this type of technology, it is the rule of law that disappears.

How to mobilize citizens on these questions of surveillance, which are somewhat abstract and which we would prefer not to know about?

The challenge is above all to put this generalized surveillance in the public debate. Since everything is done in opacity, that no scandal breaks out and that no law on the question is put in discussion. It is true that in our imaginations, surveillance is invisible. To mobilize, people expect it to become dramatic, that there is fire everywhere or that Skynet controls the world. But in reality, mass surveillance is already here. Our information and awareness campaign takes a legal argument as a pretext to illustrate a very real confrontation: that of the government, the police and industrialists against part of the people and against public freedoms. What we want is to discourage our opponents, and in real life, it works! It already worked against GAFAM.

When we think of widespread surveillance, we think of the Black Mirror series or the policy implemented by China, not necessarily France…

That is exactly the problem. This frightening science fiction has taken hold without being able to talk about it and therefore without being able to fight against it. Series like Black Mirror, it gives people the landmarks of a distant horizon. They say to themselves: “Oh it’s okay, we’re not in Black Mirror”. While the things that are supposed to worry us like mass surveillance or the omnipresence of artificial intelligence are already there. The same for China, it 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. While behind the scenes, the country is racing to acquire the best surveillance technologies, for fear of becoming the third world of artificial intelligence.

Against widespread surveillance La Quadrature du Net launches a collective

The Technopolis site is designed as a forum to organize the fight against police surveillance technologies implemented in cities.

3 years ago, you launched the Technopolice initiative to identify new police technologies installed in cities. How extensive is this algorithmic surveillance?

The city is becoming a place where from a control tower, agents decide what is acceptable behavior and what to ban. We have identified around fifty cities in France that are in the process of deploying algorithmic video surveillance (VSA) projects. This software, installed on the cameras, analyzes the flow of images and is capable of alerting the police when they detect “undesirable” behavior. It can be young people sitting on a bench, people tagging, organizing raids or others who remain static for too long.

This generalized surveillance of the public space corresponds to a hunt for the poor

But this software is quite incapable of detecting attacks, crimes or sexual assaults because it cannot train the machines with standard images. Nor are they trained to spot white-collar crimes, but to target the poorest, the marginalized, those for whom the street is the only possible place of socialization. This generalized surveillance of the public space actually corresponds to a hunt for the poor on the part of the public authorities.

CCTV cameras do not help to lower infractions, or even solve investigations, so remove them!

What is your strategy to fight against these technologies whose use is still in its infancy and limited?

Indeed, it is very complicated. The opacity of the system makes the task difficult. So if we want to fight against mass surveillance in the street, we have to attack the root, video surveillance. The argument of manufacturers to convince town halls to deploy algorithmic video surveillance is to say: “You have installed so many cameras that are useless, you might as well add artificial intelligence to predict and detect suspicious behavior” . So we, our argument is to say, all the studies have proven it (those of the gendarmerieof the Court of Audit), CCTV cameras do not help to lower infractions, or even solve investigations, so remove them!

The 2024 Olympic Games will serve to test the population vis-à-vis these technologies.

The fight against insecurity, crime and terrorism generally serve to justify the generalization of surveillance. Why and how to explain such a deployment if video surveillance is so ineffective?

That’s a real question! Why do mayors buy cameras when they know they’re useless? Perhaps because if the criminals do not see the cameras, the voters, on the other hand, are attentive to them. In addition, it costs less than implementing social policies aimed at building schools or nurseries. It allows mayors to give, at little cost, the impression that they are taking action.

Each festive event is an opportunity for the government to accustom people to this absolute surveillance.

And then, little by little, the presence of cameras in the streets becomes the norm, people get used to it. It is as if each event or festive moment was an opportunity for the government to accustom people to this absolute surveillance. In this sense, the 2024 Olympic Games will constitute a laboratory for technical experimentation to highlight French industry in the eyes of the world, but also a social experiment to test how the population positions itself vis-à-vis these technologies. Obviously, if your face is scanned to go to a concert or in a stadium, you will have less desire to destroy the gates than if you are scanned before arriving at a demonstration. It’s a time to celebrate, not a time to think about police brutality or state authoritarianism. And this is where it gets dangerous.

Margaux Dzuilka



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Against widespread surveillance, La Quadrature du Net launches a collective complaint – Bondy Blog


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