By Mason Quah
FRANCE’S Global Security Law has drawn major criticism for its potential impact on press freedom, the right to protest and the implementation of discriminatory technologies.
Redaction Politics reached out to the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, a non-profit organisation focused on providing advocacy for controlling the expansion of mass surveillance technology.
Albert Fox Cahn, STOP’s executive director, spoke at length about the way that surveillance technologies such as those proposed in France both struggle to achieve their intended goals and worsen existing issues of over-policing and discrimination.
The supposed intent of the controversial Article 24 is to protect police officers from doxing, the harmful release of people’s personal information, but Fox Cahn is sceptical. The wording of ‘identifying a police or military officer with the intent to bring physical or psychological harm’ is ambiguous in how broadly it can be exercised.
“This seems like a broad and malleable standard that could easily be used to go after public watchdogs trying to go after police abuse. I think that anything that builds more secrecy into policing and military operations undermines civil rights and allows officers to act with a sense of impunity that is incompatible with democracy.”
If the intent was to prevent doxing, he explains, why would the law only apply to law enforcement? “It’s not clear why police and military personnel need this additional layer of personal protection. If this is speech that people find problematic shouldn’t we establish the same standards across the board? We know doxing is a threat to activists as much as it is to members of the military.”
While a lot of the discourse has centred around the bill’s Article 24, this criticism shouldn’t neglect the bigger picture that the Global Security Law is still a dangerous incursion against civil liberties.
The expansion of surveillance technologies, such as drones and facial recognition, enhance all the existing issues and inequalities of policing.
Facial recognition has been shown repeatedly to have lower accuracy in identifying minorities, women, and young people. The people most likely to be subjected to facial recognition software, are those most likely to be mistakenly identified.
“When we talk about facial recognition errors its not just the risk of being wrongfully accused or imprisoned, it’s the threat of police violence that comes whenever someone, particularly someone from an overpoliced community is forced into an encounter with the police.”
“We’ve seen really appalling and violent confrontations with law enforcement in France, we’ve seen the use of force targeting Muslim communities and that’s something that I worry will be exacerbated by the expansion of facial recognition.”
The most worrying consequence of the bill passing would be the downstream normalisation of surveillance technology. This could result in the stigmatisation of facial coverings such as the hijab, but also make people more afraid to take part in political activism.
“In addition to targeting minorities, the technology would also allow for more effective crackdowns on France’s strong protest culture. When you have a technology that can use a single photograph to identify every single person at a protest or a house or worship, it becomes powerful to systemically track entire communities far more cheaply and easily than you ever could in the past.”
Surveillance technology is a powerful tool in the kit of a militarised police force that raises the bigger question of to what extent the police force should be militarised in the first place.
STOP’s advocacy against surveillance technology goes hand in hand with America’s wider pushback against police overreach and the yearlong calls for police forces to be defunded and more investment put into alternatives.
In any state, the opportunity cost of equipping police forces with drones, cell catchers and large networks of CCTV is that those same resources cannot be invested in deprived communities to reduce rates of criminality. A path exists for the reduction of crime that does not require the jeopardising civil liberties.
The French Embassy in the UK was contacted for comment.
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