Surveilled people of all countries: wake up!

These groups are demonstrating in a dozen countries to express their dissatisfaction with the profileration of the means of public and private video surveillance. Paradoxically, these actions will be diffused by webcam on the Internet.

On Friday, 7 September [2001], 13 groups from all over the world will be celebrating the first "international day against video surveillance." In Paris, the group "Souriez, Vous Etes Filmes" [Smile, You Are Being Filmed] have organized a happening in the Jardin des Plantes, in front of the Museum of Natural History, in which the demonstrators will wear sheep masks and unfurl a banner that proclaims "No to video policing."

"By standing in front of this place that describes the passage from monkey to man, we hope to be understood in the wink of an eye," explains Jean-Pierre Petit, leader of the association.

"The proliferation of the systems of video surveillance doesn't simply threaten private life and individual liberties. Video surveillance is more and more being used as a solution for all of the problems faced by the forces of order and private companies. Surveillance cameras have become the symbol of a civilization of conditioning," vituperates Petit.

Fighting fire with fire

The 12 other groups -- located in 7 different countries, stretching from the USA to Colombia, and passing through Germany and the United Kingdom -- that are demonstrating Friday morning haven't forgotten to display their actions in front of . . . webcams that Internauts use to make a profit! The NOT BORED group, an American anarchist collective, is the main initiator of this action.

Anti-video demonstrators in front of webcams -- is this an inanity? "It will be a way of publicizing the existence of this network of groups and making it visible to the whole world on the Internet, but it is true that this type of action enters into the game that we denounce, and this is why in Paris we have preferred to stay far away from webcams," explains Jean-Pierre Petit. The French group, formed in Levallois-Perret -- one of the most surveilled cities in France -- organized a national day of action this past June.

This type of movement has a lot on its plate. Video surveillance systems are more and more affordable. They are being used in homes as well as in public places and businesses. Kits such as Vigivision's "Vigilight," which includes a camera and a relay device that uses a normal telephone line, permits someone to use a simple PC for long-distance surveillance and for less than 5,000 Francs. Panasonic has developed a camera for local networks (the KX-HCM10) that can be pivoted by remote control from a distance and by several people. These gadgets are double-edged. A sign of the times: this year Brinks will expand its operations to include a "Home Security" division, which will bring new security devices to the home.

[Written by Chrisophe Guillemin and published in the 7 September 2001 issue of ZDNet. Translated from the French by Bill Brown.]

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