Technopolice: Resisting the Total Surveillance of Our Cities and of Our Lives

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In September 2019, dozens of human rights organizations launched, a participatory campaign to document the spread of so-called “Safe City” projects across France, and resist the proliferation of automated video-surveillance and predictive policing technologies. Here is the Technopolice Manifesto.

Throughout France, Smart Cities are showing their real nature: the total surveillance of urban public spaces for law enforcement purposes.

In Toulouse, Valenciennes, Strasbourg or Paris, local police forces are experimenting videosurveillance technologies said to be “intelligent” because they are based on automated processing of video streams, enabling features such as facial recognition. In Saint-Étienne, a startup teamed up with local authorities to deploy “intelligent” microphones in low-income areas,  and alert the police in case of suspicious noise. A similar development is underway in Paris to monitor noise level around bars and cafés.

In Marseille and Nice, defense and utility contractors such as Thales and Engie are working hand-in-hand with local officials to push their “Safe City” projects. Their applications range from the recognition of emotions in urban public spaces to the massive interconnection of databases for predictive policing purposes, but also the monitoring of online social networks. Computing technologies such as Big Data and Artificial Intelligence are the keystones of these various projects. They are the core building block for making sense of all the data that can be produced or collected, for establishing correlations, making statistical cross-checks, tracking individuals or managing places and services.

The so-called Smart City is turning our future into the Technopolice: Under the guise of optimization and decision support, they transform the whole urban world into a vast surveillance program. First, a large-scale surveillance dedicated to real-time control of flows of people and goods through centralized management, implemented from a hyperconnected command center. Then, a targeted surveillance of individuals and groups:  as soon as “suspicious” behavior is detected, police apparatus can be unleashed to “neutralize the threat” and suppress the smallest “breach of the peace.” Or, conversely, reward citizens deemed virtuous by the State.

But we just have to look to the mirror of history or to other parts of the world to understand where the Technopolice is leading us: It will reinforce forms of discrimination and segregation, muzzle social movements, depoliticize public spaces, automate the police and denials of justice, while further dehumanizing social relations. All this and more at huge financial and ecological costs, since it will take taxpayers’ money, rare earths, plenty of electricity and many other resources to build and run these infrastructures.

Apart from a few seemingly consensual applications, the Smart City will mainly be used to reinforce the power of merchants of fear, and hide as long as possible the ineptitude of their policies. Technocrats rely on the Plan and the Machine to regulate our cities and our lives. Instead of the polis understood as a democratic city, as a pluralistic space of wandering, of impromptu meetings and confrontation with otherness, they want to bleed the city dry. The Technopolice looks like a gigantic test tube where the most advanced forms of social control are being developed.

Against this dystopia put forward by those who pretend to govern us, we call for unyielding resistance, in France and beyond.