>Heading toward Marseille’s central train station, Eda Nano points out what looks like a streetlamp on the Rue des Abeilles. Its long stand curves upward to a white dome shading a dark bulb. But this sleek piece of urban furniture is not a lamp. It’s a video camera, with a 360-degree view of the narrow street. 

Nano, a 39-year-old developer, wants to make residents of Marseille more aware that they are being watched. She is part of a group called Technopolice that has been organizing efforts to map the rise of video surveillance. With some 1,600 cameras in the city, there is plenty to find. Mixed in among them, Nano says, are 50 smart cameras designed to detect and flag up suspicious behavior, though she is unsure where they are or how they are being used.

Across the world, video cameras have become an accepted feature of urban life. Many cities in China now have dense networks of them. London and New Delhi aren’t far behind. 

Now France is playing catch-up. Since 2015, the year of the Bataclan terrorist attacks, the number of cameras in Paris has increased fourfold. The police have used such cameras to enforce pandemic lockdown measures and monitor protests like those of the Gilets Jaunes. And a new nationwide security law, adopted last year, allows for video surveillance by police drones during events like protests and marches.


For Nano the creep of increased surveillance has personal resonance. She grew up in Albania as it lurched between different political regimes in the 1990s. Her father, a politician, opposed the party that was in power for part of that time. “It was a very difficult period for us, because we were all being watched,” she says. Her family suspected that the authorities had installed bugs in the walls of their home. But even in France, freedoms are fragile. “These past five years France has lived for much of the time in a state of emergency,” she says. “I’ve seen more and more constraints put on our liberty.”

Concerns have been raised throughout the country. But the surveillance rollout has met special resistance in Marseille, France’s second-biggest city. The boisterous, rebellious Mediterranean town sits on some of the fault lines that run through modern France. Known for hip bars, artist studios, and startup hubs, it is also notorious for drugs, poverty, and criminal activity. It has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in Europe but is stranded in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, a region that leans far right. The city pushes back. Its attitude could be summed up by graffiti you might pass as you drive in on the A7 motorway: “La vie est (re)belle.”

That all makes Marseille a curious testing ground for surveillance tech. When President Emmanuel Macron visited the city in September 2021, he announced that 500 more security cameras would be given to the city council. They would be placed in an area of the city that is home to high numbers of immigrants and has become synonymous with violence and gang activity. He struck a law-and-order tone: “If we can’t succeed in Marseille, we can’t make a success out of France.”

The announcement was just the latest in a string of developments in Marseille that show an increased reliance on cameras in public spaces. 

Activists are fighting back, highlighting the existing surveillance system’s overreach and underperformance. Their message seems to resonate. In 2020, the city elected a new administration, one that had pledged a moratorium on video surveillance devices. But have the residents of Marseille succeeded, or are they simply fighting a rising tide?

Technopolice, a campaign and activist network launched by the digital rights advocacy group La Quadrature du Net in collaboration with other groups, got its start in 2019. Félix Tréguer, an associate researcher at the CNRS Center for Internet and Society, was one of those behind the campaign. He had been seeing increasing numbers of articles in the French media about new surveillance projects and was shocked at how uncritical they were. “[One] simply rehashed the press release from the Marseille council,” he says.

What spurred him

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By: Fleur Macdonald
Title: Marseille’s battle against the surveillance state
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2022/06/13/1053650/marseille-fight-surveillance-state/
Published Date: Mon, 13 Jun 2022 09:00:00 +0000

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