The Fake Debate

It is important to realize that the national territory is occupied by the presence of 1.5 million surveillance cameras, as many in the private sector as in the public sector. This number is constantly increasing, and it goes without saying that this infrastructure is not being implanted in an aleatory manner, but in response to a well-defined strategy, executed by the rulers and managers of all forms of social control. The striking thing about the [camera] installations is that they aren't left to chance, devoid of tactical considerations.

We have two official and contradictory versions of the problem of security, which Chevenement calls the "right of safety" and positions against what he stigmatizes as petty delinquency. The mayors who are equipped [with camera systems] have, as a group, claimed that video surveillance has been useful from the point of view of [fighting] street delinquency. Yet this isn't the case when it comes to the Minister of the Interior, who claims that urban delinquency and other incivilities will tend to increase and, therefore, it is urgent to envision the strengthening of coercive measures already in place.

There are plans, such as those proposed by the Deputy Jean-Pierre Brard, approved by the National Assembly in November 1998, that incorporate fiscal databases into the NIR. There are measures prefiguring the creation of a centralized database, which will incorporate behavioral representations as texts and images, here and there gleaned from State agencies and private-sector information suppliers. This central database will also incorporate genetic and genealogical profiles, which was recently proposed in Island, where, on our territory, the Guards of the Guigoux Seals want to know where you are going, in the name of citizens' security and fighting delinquency, which shrinks or grows according to the immediate interests of the powers involved. Because, if video surveillance is thought to be the solution to delinquency, it is also a not-insignificant source of financial profit in such affairs as the immediate interventions of car-impounding services; the surveillance of salaried employees in both public and private firms, in the name of increased efficiency, and the surveillance of consumers in big stores, in the name of optimizing sales; the consolidation of the role of the State police, which defends the unequal distribution of wealth, etc. All this contributes to the strong growth of electronic and informatic surveillance.

The mass media give the appearance of being interested in the phenomenon of video surveillance. But their coverage is based on the premise that the debate over video surveillance is between its opponents and proponents, which reduces what is actually a form of social control to a simple formality, put up for democratic debate and pushed by technological evolution as evidence of modern convenience.

Surveillance of the Poor

It is also desirable and necessary to emphasize the perverse and alienating effects of such plans, rather than placing the accent, in an obsessional manner, on hypothetical street delinquency and the eventuality of intrusions into private life, when, in reality, the intrusion has been proved to be the long-term, growing omnipresence of social control in all its forms. The absence of proof or the lack of precise statistics doesn't discourage us, in our conclusions, from asserting that video surveillance is the real "delinquency." They tell us that delinquency is growing, but one doesn't know what makes what and in which measure. No comparative statistics allow us to confront all the forms of delinquency that cover the social spectrum in its entirety. The Minister of the Interior is particularly attached to petty, urban delinquency, but he scrupulously ignores the other forms. He focuses upon the problems of the suburbs, reduces the events to ordinary violence and citizens' rights to be free of crime, but it is really a question of the desperate results of discriminatory and consciously reinforced politics, and the great injustices committed by this same Ministry. The "burning" neighborhoods are responding to a series of unpunished assassinations and incidences of ordinary violence committed by police functionaries.

It is a question of understanding in "delinquency" the social control aimed at containing it. In other words, what are the delinquencies of politics, the police, health care, ecology, economics, and the security forces of large institutions -- what are their real objectives and foundations? Doesn't the press organizations' politics of disinformation make them complicit in criminality and police actions that emphasize the "right to security" proclaimed by the Minister of the Interior, who finesses the real stakes of what he calls the security of citizens? Amalgams and confusions that allow the State to reorganize its forces of control and repression by using databases that fuse together private and public files, and demonstrations of the necessity of globalizing surveillance and making petty delinquency the prime target -- all this is an indulgence that makes a joke of large institutional criminality. All institutional violence, all the violations of the inalienable rights of human beings that are committed in the service of repression and constraint, are accounted for by a growing number of associated organizations in which the activists involved feel no indignity in their resistance against what one doesn't hesitate to call a resurrection of fascism.

(Written by Thierry Cheverney and included in No to Electronic Watchtowers: Elements of Reflection on Video Surveillance. Translated from the French November 2003 by Bill Brown.)

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