How far will Big Brother go?

Video surveillance is developing in more and more areas, and in an extremely rapid manner. Big Brother isn't one face, but many, the synonym of different powers which, at all levels, use this convenient tool at convenient times to control and condition. Big Brother doesn't exist in a concerted plan of generalized surveillance of the population, but a wild development that ends with a situation of total surveillance [translator: quadrillage] all the more exponential if not controlled, kept underground, submissive to mediated security variations, under the benevolent eye of the State. . . . Video surveillance is a de facto experimentation on all aspects of everyday life. You be the judge:

-- in Ile-de-France, in just Levallois and Paris, there are 26 towns [wired with cameras] in 2000, and 11 towns projected to get them.
-- even worse than Levallois, Lyon -- the third largest twon in France -- has boxed in [trans: qualrillage] its city centre with 50 ultra-modern cameras. In August 2000, Montpellier had 30.
-- the little town of St-Herblain, located in the suburbs of Nantes, set the pace for the entire western region (Bretagne, the Loire, etc) with its 15 cameras.
-- public transportation: the subways are watched by between 5,000 and 8,000 cameras. The SNCF [wired] 20 stations at the end of 1999, and all Parisian stations [will be wired] at the end of 2000, with 60 others in Ile-de-France [to be wired] by 2005. The buses had 500 cameras in 2000 and [will have] 1,000 in 2001.
-- development of "coveillance" (300 apartments in the HLM at the end of 1999), which allowed the surveillance of one's neighbors.
-- creation of fortress-like built-up metropolitan areas ([for example] l'Etang la ville).
-- development of companies that design security systems that combine cameras and magnetic badges.
-- experimentation with "intelligent houses" (the Beaugrenelle neighborhood in Paris) that have cameras, badges. . . .

To complete the picture, one must take account of the physical development that corresponds to the technological "maturation" of new computer programs capable of detecting behavior, [for example] if one stays a long or short time in a given place (VSIS Visual Surveillance Intelligent Software).

In addition to the threats they pose to our rights, webcams and the development of televised games -- such as Big Brother, in which people are surveilled 24-hours-a-day ([also, the] experiment in January on [Channel] FT 6 under the name Adventures on the Net [and] Loft Story on [Channel] M6) -- make one think that "private life" is being insidiously modified and that we all should be engaged in a cultural debate about the utilization of technology and the modification of life.

In 1999, in England, the average citizen was filmed every 30 seconds. In France, it isn't so bad yet, and so the importance of making a voice of dissent heard -- of obliging the decision-makers to prove their assertions -- is primary. Faced with this somber picture, the opposition to video surveillance is developing and multiplying its networks. The goal is to show that a movement of opinion exists at all levels.

On 14 December 2000, a simultaneous action was organized in Paris (the Lyon train station) and New York (Times Square). In France, the actions were organized by CLIFTI [Collectif pour les libertes individuelles face aux techniques de l'information], Rights First, G10 Solidarity, CNT Information, and Smile You're Being Filmed, and in the USA by the Surveillance Camera Players collective. This international network also includes Germany (the people at Aktuelle Kamera in Bremen) and Switzerland. On 24 February 2001, in Bristol, English activists organized a day of action. At the [French] national level, on 13 March 1999, a day of action was organized in many towns (Levallois, Limoges, Nancy, Nimes, Montpellier, Vaulx-en-Velin).

The idea of permanent national coordination was formalized by a 24 January 2001 meeting in Montpellier, and the planned action for 9 June [2001] already includes more groups than were involved in the 1999 action.

Even more encouraging is the fact that specialized associations at the heart of CLIFT have created the bases for a united movement. The presence in CLIFT of two unions enlarges its field of action. One can also add to the inventory the intercollective DELIS [Droits et Libertes face a l'informatisation de la societe, Rights and Freedoms opposed to the Informatization of Society, which is composed of the League of Human Rights, the Information, Database and Citizenship Collective, the Collective for Citizens' Rights Opposed to the Informatization of Social Action and the Collective of Associations and Unions Against the Merging of Fiscal and Social Files], and the Big Brother Awards ceremony to be held 16 December 2000. We will pay attention to all of these networks.

(Written by Jean-Pierre Petit, member of Souriez, Vous Etes Filmes 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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