At home, on the road, in town or at work, cameras follow you everywhere. With the rise of new facial recognition technologies and the increasing number of cameras, the connected city can make us dizzy.

The situation in France

The key word is “security”. Cameras are used to prevent or repress the disruption of public safety. They reassure the honest citizen walking at night and dissuade the smaller or bigger larceny.

Cities with cameras

Many big cities opted for the installation of cameras: Blois, Montpellier, Nice, and Annecy… But it is also the case of smaller cities, like Vernou-en-Sologne near Blois, a village of 572 inhabitants in 2006. The Gazette des communes established in 2013 a ranking of the 60 most important cities using cameras. Nice is first, with one camera every 450 inhabitants. Followed by Nimes (one camera every 700 inhabitants), then Avignon and Strasbourg. Some cities are still resistant by using cameras like Dunkirk or Caen. The ranking shows that most cities from the right-wing are more likely to use cameras, whereas cities from the left-wing are not.

An ambiguous role of cameras

In the collective imaginary, cameras will dissuade people from committing a crime such as robbery, rape… But they are mostly useful for petty larcenies like crossing the red light. The city Blois is developing a video-verbalization especially for road safety, but we can imagine that it is a new way to “fill the coffers” as Marc Gricourt, ex-mayor of Blois, says.

What about the law?

In France the NCIL (National Commission on Informatics and Liberty) controls the video surveillance sector. On July 2018 the NCIL called a private school to be in conformity with the regulations. In fact, cameras were permanently filming employees and students who were not sufficiently aware of the situation and there was a lack of security. With the development of new technologies of recognition, on September 2018 the NCIL asked the Legislator to intervene in these questions to better regulate the sector.

The extreme situation in China

Nearly 170 million of cameras would be watching you everywhere in China, from the biggest cities to the countryside. The country is now using a technology of facial recognition, which detects faces and vehicles. Close to a Minority Report story, the technology knows who you are, what you are doing and can allow you or not to access a secure place.
According to a press report, due to this system 2 000 fugitives were arrested in two years. Some cameras are even integrated into glasses with facial recognition so that a policeman can access to the database instantly. In the Chinese society, the intrusion of the State into the private life is not perceived as a European might sense it.

The Social-Credit System

On a Monday morning, you are walking in Beijing to get your first coffee of the day. It is 8 a.m. and you are now running to your train. A little late to go to work, you cross the street on the red light. The cameras catch you and your face appear on three big screens of the city as a criminal wanted. You have lost some “civil points” and your ranking does not allow you to enter the train until you regain new points by doing a good action (donate your blood…). This is not a Black Mirror scenario but a reality in China. You have just experienced the “Social-Credit” established by the Chinese Government. From now on, each camera will catch every little mistake, and also your neighbor might denounce you when you are smoking on a non-smoking area. On the contrary a good citizen receive bonus (better conditions for a loan; reduce the price of his bill…).  But this system does not frighten Chinese people considering that if a citizen does not reproach anything to himself, then he has nothing to worry about.
If you have red 1984 by George Orwell, you can easily identify cameras as a new Big Brother watching you. This will not make you like cameras. But Le Figaro published a survey asking more than 36 000 people their opinion about video surveillance and 70% affirmed to be reassured by the presence of cameras in town. So, we can imagine that cities will not stop developing this surveillance, it is just the beginning.

A propos de Léa VERMERSCH