In September 2019, La Quadrature du Net started an initiative called “Technopolice” to collect information about the progressive outbreak of automated surveillance in France. This action reached a new milestone this Saturday, September 24 as a collective complaint against the Minister of the Interior, carried by of 15,248 people, was filed before the CNIL (Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés, the French data protection authority). The complaints require to ban surveillance cameras, facial recognition and massive police databases. You can read the complaints here (in French): TAJ file, TES file and videosurveillance.
As the French government is less and less willing to fight against inequalities or poverty, security and repressive devices are increasingly presented as the unique and monotonous solution to all kinds of social issues. Surveillance is probably the laziest and least sustainable way to build a society. Yet state official and their allies display a systematic desire to encourage widespread police surveillance, either through subsidies, directives to the police hierarchy or by establishing a repressive political climate. To break that rising authoritatrian wave and fhight the Technopolice, we chose to directly attack the Minister of the Interior and asking the CNIL (the French Data Protection Authority) to put an end to the enormous number of CCTVs as well as automated video surveillance software, facial recognition and giant policedatabases gathering data on the population.
There are plenty of reasons to challenge the legality of this surveillance technologies. In particular, our law is based on two strong conditions: a surveillance or repressive measure is only legal, if it is absolutely necessary (there is no other way) and if it is proportionate to the offense or crime it intends to prevent (you don’t chase a fly with an aircraft carrier). With those principles in mind, we divided our action in three distinct complaints, against three disproportionate surveillance systems that combine with each other to allow a permanent monitoring of our actions and movements.
First, the TAJ database (« traitement des antécédents judiciaires » meaning «criminal records processing»), is illegal on two grounds. First of all, this file is disproportionate: it gathers information on any person concerned by an investigation (whether complainants, witnesses or suspects), that is to say today about 20 million files. But, in practice, more and more information tends to show that this database is fed and used outside of the legal framework and contains a lot of erroneous data but also retains some information much longer than the legal length. Secondly, this database is used by the police to operate facial recognition several hundreds times a day, outside any dedicated legal framework. Also, omnipresent video surveillance multiplies the possibilities of obtaining images of our faces and increases a lot more the dangers induced by this technology. Read the complaint here (in French).
Logically, the second complaint targets this generalized surveillance of our streets permitted by the CCTV cameras. Firstly, we demonstrate to the CNIL how the state’s action is essential and all over the process of deployment of cameras in cities, and now in villages across France. This participation is illustrated in several forms: active subsidy policies, incentives to add algorithmic software on cameras or as prefectures (government representation in regions) systematicly intervene to authorize implementation of these devices. The Minister of the Interior acts at so many levels that he must be considered, legally, as responsible. More precisely, the prefectural orders on which the implementation of the cameras is legally based never describe in what way the CCTV would be useful for the purposes provided by law (in the “code de la sécurité intérieure”). As videsurveillance is disproportionate and unjustified, it is then illegal. We therefore attack the Minister of the Interior as he implements all these governmental incentive practices that make this disproportionality possible. Read the complaint here. (in French).
Finally, the last complaint challenges the TES database ( (“titres électroniques sécurisés” meaning “secure electronic documents”). It contains face photos of every citizen requesting an ID card or a passport, that is to say, just about everyone, allegedly for the sole purpose of facilitating the renewal and verification of identity documents. The database has been criticized from the day it was created in 2016, as the existence of such a sensitive centralized data base generates enormous dangers (for instance allowing for generalised biometric identification through CCTV cameras). We reiterate these alerts in two ways in the complaint. First, we point out the lack of necessity and proportionality of this database, especially since a less intrusive way to achieve the same objective of facilitating the verification of documents has been created last year (an access to this data can now be done in a decentralized way by putting them directly in a chip on each ID card — not that we support biometric ID cards per se but, from a legal point of view, this is a strong argument). Secondly, we show that the States strongly fails to fulfill mere security precaution. By deliberately maintaining these technical choices, in full knowledge of all the risks inferred by a centralized architecture and the possibility of misappropriating and abusing the database (even more now that facial recognition has consistently increased). Legally, the Minister of the Interior is violating its obligation to abide by strong cybersecurity standards. Read the complaint here (in French).
We ask the CNIL that all these documented police usage of surveillance technologies to be controlled and stopped, and that the Minister of the Interior be sanctionned for having promoted and allowed these illegal practices to go on for years.
The CNIL must now take into account the thousands voices of people who have joined the collective complaint and showed their solid opposition to the expansion of surveillance and to the deployment of these technologies, often implemented beyond any control. As a regulation on Artificial Intelligence is being discussed within the European Union, as the promoters of algorithmic videosurveillance are pushing to legally authorize these tools and as the 2024 Olympic Games are announced to be a pretext for experimenting plenty of intrusive technologies under the cover of a security context, it is urgent to change the balance of power and turn it on our side. Thanks to you and to the enthusiasm this group action has aroused, we launched a major offensive but the battle against Technopolice has only just begun!
We also hope that our initiative can inspire comrades in other countries to consider using the same human eights standards and legal arguments against their own government. Don’t hesitate to be in touch if we can be of any help!