Against the empire of algorithmic video-surveillance, La Quadrature du Net strikes back

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The “experimentation” of Algorithmic Video-Surveillance (AVS) within the framework set by the “Olympic Games” law passed last year by the French Parliament is not an experiment at all: it is nothing more than a hypocritical maneuver designed to legalize, through small steps, a police infrastructure already massively deployed in France. To counter this strategy, La Quadrature du Net is launching a campaign aimed at fueling popular opposition to AVS, a technology based on Artificial Intelligence that amounts to a constant, automated monitoring of public spaces and marks a historic turning point in state surveillance. A complaint has also been lodged with the French data protection authority, the CNIL, as a way of denouncing the hypocrisy of the AVS promoters and pointing out the negligence of the personal data protection authority.

The Olympic Games as a pretext

For the past few days, French police forces and the security services of transport companies have been legally using smart video-surveillance1. At the end of April, citing large crowds of people attending football games or concerts, the Préfecture de Police in Paris authorized the SNCF and RATP to use the AVS technologies of a startup by the name Wintics to cross-analyze the flows of hundreds of cameras installed in some Parisian train and subway stations2. These “experiments” will continue until March 2025, within the legal framework set by the law on the Olympic Games passed last year.

Never mind the ineffectiveness of these automated surveillance systems for public spaces. For the French Ministry of the Interior, the surveillance industry and their political supporters, these experiments above all serve to divert attention, while at the same time hundreds of ASV systems are being used illegally by the national police, as well as local and transport authorities. At the crossroads of economic, electoral and authoritarian interests, the promoters of Technopolice have been working for years to impose AVS throughout the country.

The worst is yet to come

As a matter of fact, the legislative bills legalizing AVS on the long run – including its most sensitive applications such as real-time facial recognition in the public space or automatic video tagging for minor offences – are already in the pipeline.

The Bill on Safety in Transportation is a perfect example: the National Assembly is about to debate this proposal put forward by the Senate’s right-wing majority, to legalize AVS in the transport sector. The government supports the parliamentary initiative, having activated the fast-track procedure on this bill, without even waiting for the assessments required by the “Olympic Games” law3.

Also, in June 2023, less than three months after the adoption of the “Olympic Games” law, the Senate took up an experimentation project first developed by the Macron’s parliamentary majority, adopting a bill that would provide for a three-year experimentation of facial recognition coupled with video surveillance. “Too soon” was the government’s response. It felt that the political conditions were not ripe and preferred to stick to a “small steps” strategy4.

Denouncing the prevailing hypocrisy

To further illustrate the hypocrisy of the “experiments” linked to the “Olympic Games” law, La Quadrature du Net has just lodged a complaint with the CNIL against a deployment of AVS that is totally illegal and has remained largely under the radar: the Prevent PCP project5.

Bringing together the SNCF (French railroads) and RATP (Parisian transport authority) with a panel of companies, including the Atos group and ChapsVision (both providers of AVS in the experiments linked to the “Olympic Games” law), Prevent PCP formally takes the form of a public contract subsidized by the European Union. In practice, the companies see their AVS systems deployed in major stations across Europe to detect “abandoned baggage”, via a method based on identification and tracking of the owners of said baggage. In France, AVS systems have for instance been deployed for months in the Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon stations in Paris, and more recently in the Marseille-Saint-Charles station.

Thanks to the information brought to light by the local Technopolice Marseille group, La Quadrature du Net has filed a complaint with the CNIL against this project — one among hundreds of illegal AVS deployments in France. The aim of this action is to return the authority in charge of personal data protection to its proper role instead of letting illegal AVS projects proliferate while accompanying the legalization process. This complaint also serves to highlight the hypocrisy of the protagonists of Prevent PCP: while taking part in the AVS experiment provided for by the “Olympic Games” law, SNCF, RATP, as well Atos and ChapsVision are carrying out deployments that have no legal basis whatsoever.

Today, La Quadrature du Net is also launching various tools designed to nurture grassroots mobilizations against algorithmic video-surveillance in the coming months, to resist its programmed legalization. A detailed brochure explaining the dangers of the AVS, as well as posters designed to inform the public, are available on this dedicated campaign page, which will be enriched in the coming weeks and months6.

This campaign against the AVS is part of the Technopolice initiative, launched in 2019 by La Quadrature to resist new police surveillance technologies. The Technopolice website offers a public forum and a documentation platform in collaborative writing (called the “carré”), free to use and intended to organize and federate local collectives opposed to these technologies.

To shed light on the prefectoral decrees that locally authorize AVS within the framework of the “Olympic Games” law, we launched a Mastodon account, Attrap’Surveillance, which broadcasts prefectures’ collections of administrative acts to detect authorizations for police surveillance measures like AVS and drones. In mid-April, this system was used to identify the first AVS decrees. In the coming months, it will enable us to be alerted to AVS experiments authorized by prefects, so that we can more readily oppose them.

By all means, we must assert our refusal of permanent control of our actions though algorithmic video-surveillance, denounce these experiments, document the illegal projects that keep on proliferating, and organize ourselves locally to defeat the Technopolice. Together, let’s fight to ensure that public spaces are not permanently transformed into a place of police repression, and that instead our towns and villages are spaces of freedom, creativity and encounters!

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  1. See our article on the first prefectoral decrees authorizing the use of AVS: ↩︎
  2. The categories of events to be detected by AVS systems take up some of the categories provided for in the 2023 law, in this case: crossing or presence of a person in a prohibited or sensitive area, excessive density of people, crowd movement, presence of abandoned objects. ↩︎
  3. Guillaume Jacquot. “Transports : le Sénat adopte une proposition de loi qui renforce l’arsenal de sécurité, avec le soutien du gouvernement”. Public Sénat, February 14, 2024. ↩︎
  4. Simon Barbarit, “Reconnaissance faciale : le Sénat adopte une proposition de loi pour expérimenter cette technologie”. Public Sénat, June 12, 2023. ↩︎
  5. The complaint is available at: ↩︎
  6. The campaign page is available at: ↩︎