Algorithmic video surveillance, “motion on another scale that changes the nature of observation”

This Tuesday, January 24, the Senate is investigating

“Olympic Games 2024” billthis should allow for the legalization of the use of artificial intelligence in software to manage certain public order measures, including connected video security cameras.

Algorithmic (VSA) or automated video surveillance has already been tested in many municipalities, such as Ile-de-France. Massive (Essonne) or Aulnay sauce Bois (Seine-Saint-Denis), where municipal police chiefs and elected officials responsible for these matters believe they can no longer do without it. VSA allows detect and analyze crime incidents in real time at a specific location, which the human eye will not see, either badly or too late: crowd movements with threats of crushing, aggressive gestures, the discovery of garbage. This program also allows mayors to implement the “smart city” concept, for example, smart cities to better manage traffic flow. On the other hand, the law prohibits the municipal police from reading license plates in real time and accessing police and gendarmerie files.

According to La Quadrature du Net, a technology that Israeli and French companies are at the forefront of, but which raises many questions in terms of civil liberties in a democracy, such as facial recognition. The association fighting against censorship and control has launched an information campaign against Article 7 of the Olympic Law. Interview with Noémie Levain, lawyer at La Quadrature du Net.

FRANCE INTER: Do you think these algorithmic or automated video surveillance systems, which allow detecting particularly risky behavior or attacks, can be as problematic, as dangerous, as tools like facial recognition?

NOEMIE LEVAIN : “Article 7 of this law on the Olympic Games aims to legalize these practices of automated video surveillance. At La Quadrature du Net, we have been studying these questions for three years with an initiative called TechnoPolice. police technologies in our cities. However, many of France Algorithmic video surveillance already exists in their cities completely illegally. This is the case in Nice, Moirans (Isère) or Vannes (Morbihan). And again, this is the tip of the iceberg, because it is a very opaque market.

For us, VSA is as dangerous as facial recognition. It is based on a very similar technology that aims to analyze video streams using statistical algorithms trained on data to recognize events. And actually face recognition is face recognition. There, it is the same thing, recognizing the elements of body and behavior. So we analyze the bodies, classify them, categorize them.

The goal is to provide this information to the police, who will automate their decision-making and therefore necessarily automate control, surveillance and repression. So, for us, it is not dangerous because it is not related to citizen identity. It’s really the idea of ​​being able to say who is normal or not normal, what is suspicious or not suspicious. And this creates many political, philosophical, ethical problems, because no one can decide who is a suspect or not! And this is just a tool for social control, for normalizing our behavior in the public space.”

Are municipalities already using these video surveillance systems and software interested in them?

“This is minimal compared to the huge risks it poses in terms of surveillance of society. Automated or algorithmic video surveillance is as dangerous to society as facial recognition or any other form of surveillance. In fact, we are indeed in transition on another scale, a change in the nature of mass surveillance in France today.

Above all, these are tools that will focus on an already stigmatized population. A few examples we’ve seen in our research are where suspicious events and behaviors need to be detected, such as someone who is static. This is called “robbery”. In general, it is a person who begs. It could also be a hoarding group, it could be a runaway, and we’re already over-representing the offending, or anyway, we’re over-representing the issues in the public safety space that’s somewhere else and there’s already people in it. the police are focused. Therefore, we are afraid that this population will be over-controlled and subjected to excessive repression.”

“It is the myth of efficiency that enables mass surveillance”

“Furthermore, these tools reinforce the belief that monitoring public space will solve security problems… In fact, several studies that have emerged in recent years demonstrate the ineffectiveness of CCTV cameras in terms of preventing or even solving crime. .Rather than stepping back and saying ‘OK,’ try to solve security issues, especially social policies, apart from surveillance, we always go towards isolation.

Camera not working? We will add more. 360° cameras not working? We will use artificial intelligence. In fact, it won’t work because it’s not a public policy solution for security. And so if it doesn’t work, it only serves one thing, to exercise mass control, to repress, even to empower the state, the police, the population. And it is quite scary to see that today France is really at the forefront of observation, at least in Europe, whether politically or economically.

Always tell yourself that if there is a security problem, rather than thinking quietly, well, we will watch the population. We will empower the state to obtain information about the population. When we talk about mass surveillance, it’s not just theoretical. We need to look at specific examples in History and even in our History. What enabled mass surveillance? It is a myth of power, control, abuse, and therefore efficiency.”

What do you expect from the discussions in the Senate?

“We are hoping for a real discussion, a real awareness in society today, because this is a topic that is very little known. There is a real desire not to explain and to do. In the end, it’s even quite amazing that there is such a discussion. problematic technology in very short periods of time to the law about the Olympic Games must pass, and with the instrumentalization of this event, the exceptional dimension, the timeless dimension of the Olympic Games.

In fact, it enables the adoption of equally exceptional, yet problematic and authoritarian policies. We really want to make society aware of the existence of these technologies so that it can oppose them. Above all, we hope for a truly democratic moment in the National Assembly to reject this Article 7 and ban automated or algorithmic video surveillance.

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