In Saint-Herblain, a commune in the Nantes metropolitan area, the Mayor (PS) [translator: Partie Socialiste] has decided to install video surveillance cameras, for the moment, in 20 different places, making it a pilot city for all of West France. Once again the Left distinguishes itself for its capacity to recuperate [trans: render palatable] security ideas. A collective was formed; it has already organized many actions (in front of the cameras of the central post office; in front of the Mayor) that denounce this project. What follows is their statement.
The right to security is a basic individual need, as are the rights to minimum wages, decent housing, "education" that is worthy of the name, and freedom of movement. So that the individual uses his or her freedoms of thought and expression, it is necessary that these vital needs are satisfied as a prerequisite; it would be vain to speak of democratic society and debate otherwise.
Video surveillance is a response to the feeling of insecurity. The problem is that video surveillance does nothing to increase personal security, because it doesn't prevent crimes from being committed.
Video surveillance isn't simply ineffective; it is also threatens our freedoms and is destructive of the social bond.
A MOST DUBIOUS EFFICACY
Delinquents adapt by going to other places and protecting themselves (examples: helmets, hoods, etc.).
The banks themselves have found that the installation of locks remotely operated from a distance, which permit the control of access to the building, are much more effective than cameras.
The presence of cameras doesn't have a dissuasive effect; again, it [the commission of crime] is a question of impulsive actions. Some people premeditate and seek to disguise their crimes as innocent actions. Conversely, the cameras increase among some people the feeling of diffuse suspicion, which actually increases, not decreases, the likelihood of aggression.
Those who frequently commit crimes have diverse places that they frequent, and of course there's no lack of cameras to spot them. It would be more effective if the interventionary forces of the different places got together and "compared notes" with each other.
It becomes difficult to engage in perfectly natural behavior if you don't know who is watching you and at which moment(s).
Under the camera's eye, the individual constrains and adapts his or her behavior, even more so when there's painkillers involved. To avoid attracting attention, a person "who has done nothing wrong" will do anything to conform. In place of the feeling of insecurity, one substitutes feelings of constraint and oppression.
THE CAMERAS DESTROY THE SOCIAL BOND
The social bond is quickly dissolving. The installation of cameras in public places aggravates this phenomenon by taking responsibility out of the hands of the citizens. This tendency will be implicated in case an incident does in fact take place in front of the person who is watching the screen and "who sees well if things turn out badly."
One doesn't respond with machines to people who are suffering from insecurity or [the misfortune of] their social situation. This type of response is a proof of the heavy failure of consequences.
The recording and diffusion of a person's image, taken without his or her consent, is an attack on his or her private life and intimacy.
In surveilling the population, one considers all citizens as potentially faulty or suspect. This isn't acceptable.
The logic of video surveillance is to install cameras everywhere. Can one imagine a totally surveilled society?
The authorization of the principle of the video surveillance of individuals by the State or its delegated organs (which are, among others, municipal authorities) creates a situation in which every individual monitors his or her neighbor and implicitly risks the [official] authorization of violations of intimacy (using a zoom lens to film one's neighborhoods while they are at home, for example).
WHAT ALTERNATIVES DO WE PROPOSE?
For all of these reasons, a system of video surveillance appears to us as an illusory response to the feeling of insecurity, to the problem of insecurity. We advocate all measures that contribute to the restoration of the social bond in the cities and dialogue between individuals. Notably:
* reinforce the human presence
* create spaces for meetings and exchanges
* make citizens actors to live together better
* work in networks among all the implicated actors
It seems to us that the most profound insecurity for an individual is not being sure of the power to enjoy the fundamental rights to live decently and with dignity.
[Signed] the Herblain Collective Against Video Surveillance: the Confederation of Housing and the Framework of Life, the National Confederation of Housing, the Syndicated Confederation of Families, ASTI-Nantes, the League of Human Rights, SCALP, the Union of Magistrates, various citizens, etc.
(Written by the Herblain Collective Against Video Surveillance and included in No to Electronic Watchtowers: Elements of Reflection on Video Surveillance. Translated from the French November 2003 by Bill Brown.)
By e-mail SCP@notbored.org
By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998