Smile, you're being filmed!

Industrial society must be an integrated society. And so, it habitually uses its ever-increasing productivity to absorb divergences, oppositions and contradictions that nevertheless cleave it through and through.

Meanwhile, this society doesn't totally dissimulate its parade of inequalities. Instead, it manages to have its inequalities accepted by the majority of citizens who have [financial] access to consumption. But it is at the price of a generalized "police-ification" [translator: flicage] and a discreet but effective campaign of coercion that this society conserves its semblance of unity. This police-ification appears at many different levels. At the psychological level, the individual is conditioned by the billyclub of publicity to better identify with needs, to unconsciously recognize them in a TV set or car.

Thus, the equation of individual with consumer, that is to say, a lobotomized buffoon, attached to a TV remote-control unit and suffering from a sense of dissatisfaction that never gets really serious, because, after all, this is progress, or so we're told. At a pragmatic level, isn't video surveillance the most flagrant example of coercion?

Souriez, Vous Etes Filmes! (SVEF) [trans: Smile, you're being filmed!], an association of activists mobilized against total-security, fights against this phenomenon. We believe that the development of video surveillance systems is the counterpart of a social system in crisis, generator of ever-increasing inequalities and frustrations that are more and more difficult to control. The capitalist system's recourse to using cameras to surveill its citizens, who are limited to the extent they are considered simple commercial targets and transformed into potential victims of spoilation, is a vicious way of preventing all forms of subversion and protecting society's owners. In a word, the generalized recourse to video surveillance is an abuse of power, intended to assure the monopoly of the current system and to favor the perpetuation of unacceptable social cleavages. The activists of SVEF have worked with other alternative associations and unions, including SUD, CNT, and SCALP . . . for another society, one that respects the right to privacy. We're not so much concerned with the development of urban violence, but with the factors that generate it. We think that the real insecurity is social misery, and that the abolition of this insecurity won't come as a result of repression, of which video surveillance is the most perverse illustration.

-- Installed in businesses, the cameras permit their patrons to surveill workers as they execute their difficult tasks and, consequently, contribute to making work alienating. Moreover, certain firms haven't hesitated from installing cameras in union meeting-places. Thus, the worker -- already burdened by chores and responsive to expressions of gratitude -- is forced to cede to the false, anonymous electronic eyes the only rights that are granted.

-- Installed in supermarkets, the cameras furnish marketing professionals with the possibility of studying our behavior as consumers and making us passive collaborators in capitalist supremacy, at the same time that they allow the identification of delinquents by a system that can only exist by excluding a part of the population.

-- Installed along the streets and avenues under the pretext of more effective regulation of urban traffic, the cameras also serve to identify agitators during demonstrations against the current political system.

In a word, video surveillance appears to us to be a supplementary means by which the supporters and profiteers of industrial society suppress criticism and social claims.

Recently, video surveillance has taken a new form: coveillance. This permits each to actively surveill his or her neighbor's daily activity, and thus turns every citizen into a cop or informer.

[Trans: text missing in original?] And the potentially guilty. But to correctly understand the phenomena of video surveillance and coveillance, one must see the connection with other forms that endanger the fundamental rights of the individual, such as databasing confidential information, details relating to personal health.

Since its formation in 1995, the SVEF collective has organized over 50 actions, ranging from simple conferences to symbolic occupations. Most recently, we met with the CNIL (Commission [Nationale] Informatique et Libertes) with the goal of provoking a constructive debate on the nature and foundations of a society prey to security drifts and liberticides.

Our association is a part of an inter-collective regrouped by activists who don't want to abandon their freedoms to reflect upon State institutions and to mobilize against racism and capitalism, in defense of those without official papers and the right to housing. . . . Enlarge the struggle against the OGM and against publicity (RAP).

(Written by Laurent, Vice President 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.)

Contact the New York Surveillance Camera Players

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By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998