Classify to dominate: A short critical history of filing in France

The collective action campaign against the Technopolice ends in a few weeks. Our complaint against the Ministry of the Interior (which you can still join here) targets in particular two massive state files: the TAJ file and the TES file. Through them, we attack ubiquitous and structuring tools of police surveillance. Because to file is to organize the control and domination of the state over its population. How to explain that these practices could emerge, be maintained and be anchored so deeply in the cogs of the French administration to the point that they now escape any real control?
If we can obviously find a multitude of explanations, we propose to return here, without claiming to be exhaustive, on the evolution over time of registration in France.

Source : Squaring the net – 07-09-2022

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The creation of state knowledge

The desire of the French State to formally identify its population began in the 18th century. The original purpose was formally to “fight against crime, begging or wandering” by requiring certain people to register and hold “papers” containing their surname

It is motivated by this obsession – legal and scientific – with the search for identity thatAlphonse Bertillon, an agent in the photographic service of the Paris police headquarters, in 1883 proposed a new identification technique: anthropometry. This method aims to associate with the civil identity a description of physical and bodily attributes specific to a person in order to recognize him. The face – forehead, profile, ears, nose, mouth, chin – scars, moles, tattoos or even the colorimetry of the iris are thus meticulously detailed in the description. Fingerprints were added a few years later, which the police saw as a more “intangible” guarantee of identity. Photography, then in full swing, was immediately used to develop this identification system. The appearance of the instantaneous technique around 1880, and small-format photography, thus made it possible to supply the cards with full-face and profile portraits. Bertillonnage then evolves towards its most “sophisticated” version, the police being able to rely on a real visualization of the person rather than a simple description.

This improvement of the identification device marks the beginning of a practice that will be reinforced within the State, and for the sole interests of the State, over the following decades. Initially based on the search for criminals, bertillonnage is above all at the origin of the rationalization of police practices. This technique thus gives rise to new classification instruments, such as the famous form with standardized format and content, to replace reports that relied solely on the memory of police officers. This new “state memory” is based on a precise organization, and which now functions according to a “reticular system”, giving the police the ability to visually dominate “human material”. It now has an easy power to access and cross-reference information, organized in a network across the regions, fueling the fantasy that no information can escape it. Bertillonnage also marks the first stage of biometrics in France, with the body becoming the main element of identification and control. By mastering the bodies, the administration can locate, inventory, classify humans

If Bertillonnage was born in Paris, these repressive practices spread widely in the colonial administrations and foreshadow the filing of Jews fifty years later. Thus, from the end of the 1880s, filing was perfected and institutionalized within the French colonial Empire. This “French colonial laboratory” of which Ilsen About speaks well in this text makes it possible to put into practice and on a large scale a process of homogenized administrative identification, which makes possible the creation of inferior subjects and distinct legal regimes. Going beyond the mere search for criminals and delinquents, the filing will be applied in particular for the surveillance of ever wider categories of individualsconsidered “subversive”, like the anarchists

The repressive state files of the 20th century

The “nomads”, that is to say people with no fixed residence, were the first social group to be targeted by the new methods of filing, the administration wanting at all costs to control who enters and leaves their territory. Created in 1907 to replace a list of “gypsies”, the system put in place consisted in providing a large category of itinerant people with a ” anthropometric notebook »

Surveillance then intensified with the creation of a visa register affixed to the entrance of each municipality, classified chronologically and alphabetically, then by a travel ban regime first for foreigners and then vis-à-vis of all the “nomads” during the Second World War. Facilitated by their prior identification through the notebooks and registers established for several decades, the house arrest of “nomadic” people is put in place, and will be quickly replaced by internment from 1940. Released in 1946, they will however remain subject to the carnet until its repeal in 1969

During World War II, carding played a major and continuing role in the persecution and genocide of the Jewish population. After the discovery of “jewish file” by Serge Klarsfeld in the 1990s, a national commission was charged with investigating the practices of the French police during the war. The reading of report is edifying: it describes the rigorous and zealous know-how of the French police, both in the occupied zone and within the Vichy regime, to identify and repress Jewish people in France.

Already, each filing process was preceded by an identification phase, by census or through the generalization, from 1940, of the obligation to have an identity card on which was affixed the mention “Jew » . As stated in the report, “the census-file binomial has almost always served to better identify to monitor, control, and over the months, arrest, intern, even deport»

These central files were accompanied by a multitude of lists of Jewish people (for example, those who had a telegraph device, owned a bicycle or had removed the Jewish star) kept by the administration to control the compliance with restrictive laws and limit travel. But above all, they were a direct instrument of roundups and deportation from 1942. If an example were needed, the nationalities sub-file of the Tulard file made it possible to plan the arrests and internments during the roundups of foreign Jews, the files being extracted before each action.

The latest example of this State practice, the filing of the Algerian population in mainland France has demonstrated the multiplicity of maneuvers put in place to control and monitor people as a “preventive” measure in times of conflict. If no central file has emerged in this specific case, it is only for lack of time and resources, because several initiatives of the administration and the Paris police headquarters went in this direction. On the one hand, the aggression and violence brigade, created in 1953 under the pretext of the fight against street crime, photographed and identified North Africans arrested following raids, in order to feed a file. Then, during the war, a circular of August 5, 1957 organized the creation of a national file of dangerous individuals or individuals to be monitored residing in mainland France, called the “Z file”. Two other circulars of 1957 and 1958 then specified the categories of individuals to file, including in particular nationalist agents whom the police wanted to eliminate, classified in a sub-section of this file Z

On the other hand, the French State carried out the general identification of French Muslims from Algeria in mainland France. Taking the pretext of the risk of fraud, it imposed the obligation to hold an identity card allowing in reality of setting up a large file based on the registration of card applications, strengthening administrative monitoring. Several raids also took place between 1958 and 1961 in order to encourage Algerians to contact the Technical Assistance Service for French Muslims in Algeria (SAT-FMA). Officially created to provide them with assistance, this service was in fact aimed at supplying intelligence and creating individual files. Up to 100,000 files have thus been created in the Paris region and several projects for large computer files and sociological surveys were in the pipeline for this service. This Ile-de-France file was used in particular until July 1962, each time a French Muslim from Algeria was apprehended by a police service in order to determine whether he had committed “anti-French actions”.

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Classify to dominate: A short critical history of filing in France

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