Censorship on art to normalize surveillance

Posted on

La Quadrature du Net is concerned about the censorship by the Studio national d’arts contemporains Le Fresnoy, in Tourcoing, of the artist Paolo Cirio, following an intervention by the Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin, and police unions, who asked in a tweet for the cancellation of his exhibition “Capture”, claiming that it would be a “pillorying” of the police. In France, there is freedom of expression, and the fact that art is questioning in a completely legal manner the arrival of facial recognition in European society should in no way become a reason to censor such an exhibition.

On October 1st, contemporary artist Paolo Cirio launched a website, capture-police.com, to announce an exhibition at Le Fresnoy from October 15th, focusing on the importance of the European debate on facial recognition. “The Capture exhibition is made up of faces of French police officers. The artist has collected 1,000 public images of police officers taken during demonstrations in France. Capture comments on the use and potential misuse of artificial intelligence and facial recognition technologies by questioning power asymmetry games. The lack of privacy rules for this type of technology ends up turning against the same authorities who invited its use. ” The exhibition as well as the website are therefore completely legal from our point of view, as the textarea where a name could be entered under each police officer image is actually inactive, and therefore does not collect any data. However, the exhibition poses the question of the arrival of facial recognition technologies in society in an original and strong way.

On the same day, the Minister of the Interior wrote a furious tweet and threatened the artist with prosecution. The next day, the police union Synergie published a letter from the contemporary art studio Le Fresnoy announcing the cancellation of the exhibition. At this time, the artist was not yet informed of the cancellation! The threat from both the Minister of the Interior and a police union on a contemporary art exhibition demonstrates the asymmetry of powers that the exhibition precisely intended to highlight: the government only defends the privacy of the police, while the same police has already registered the photos of 8 million people in the criminal record file (see our analysis in French) and allows itself to illegally analyze these images by facial recognition (we challenged this power in court in French).

We have long been calling for a ban on facial recognition technologies in the public space, both in French and European law. Gérald Darmanin once again shows his authoritarian ambitions and his contempt for democratic principles, threatening an artist who only wanted to bring a legitimate debate into the public space: should repressive technologies be authorized in the public space?” reacts Benjamin Sonntag, member of la Quadrature du Net.