FRANCE

Does France really need CCTV?

Video surveillance cameras go relatively unnoticed in London, despite it being the most surveyed country in the world. In France however, where plans to increase their numbers by threefold have just been announced, the extra eye-spies will not go up without a fight. Read more...

Advertising

One of graffiti artist Banksy's illustrated jabs at the CCTV system in Marble Arch, London. Photo: "improbulus" on Flickr.

Video surveillance cameras go relatively unnoticed in London, despite it being the most surveyed city in the world. In France however, where plans to increase their numbers by threefold have just been announced, the extra eye-spies will not go up without a fight.

Following a meeting with the French National Commission of Video Surveillance, the Minister of the Interior confirmed plans to advance a "citizen protection model for France". Announcing an increase from 20,000 cameras to 60,000 by the end of 2010, Michelle Alliot-Marie has caused outrage, with critics rallying against what they call a "useless" scheme that comes with a "phenomenal" cost.

"CCTV is a tool of social exclusion"

David Murakami Wood is an English researcher who specializes in the study of the effects of video surveillance on society.

The biggest advantage of this system is that it lets you put the wrong-doers face to face with their crime. Once they're sat watching the footage, they give up lying and the case doesn't take as long.

Generally, however, the apparent benefits of video surveillance are exaggerated. A recent police report showed that the formula had little effect on the trouble-makers. Not only is it very expensive, but it's also very difficult to identify people from the images. Increased police presence is far more effective. In the end crime is a social problem and will not be solved by technology. However, it's a popular tool because it's visible. Putting up cameras gives the public the impression that the police are doing something. But the existence of the cameras weakens social links and creates feelings of distrust in society. If someone witnesses an attack, they're less likely to intervene because they feel like it's not their problem.

The outlook remains very negative. The system involves a very worrying privatisation of security systems. To make it work they'll need experts and technicians. The state will have to keep an eye on the private companies that are offering to train and recruit them. They're not strictly controlled and sometimes employ ex-criminals.

On top of all these things, video surveillance is a tool of social exclusion that can heighten discrimination. The way someone's dressed or the colour of their skin is enough to turn them into a potential criminal."

"An effective and important tool"

Gérard Gachet is a spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior.

The video surveillance cameras that we want to install have three uses: to ease traffic and reduce road offenses; to maintain public order, particularly during big demonstrations; and to make places considered insecure safer (some car parks for example). At the Ministry of the Interior, we're very happy with the results so far. CCTV has helped us to identify criminals and to solve many crimes. It's true that England shows them in a bad light, but that's because at first cameras were only used for purposes of deterrence. They were there only to scare people and the police couldn't really use the footage because they were such bad quality. Now, the police there want to create a permanent database of images. In France it's illegal to keep them for over 30 days.

We've never considered CCTV as a mere deterrent, although it can be that too. What interests us is being able to identify the faces or clothes of offenders. Admittedly we do need prevention schemes too, but that will never get rid of crime and delinquency completely. Video surveillance is an effective and important tool."