For Nano, increased surveillance has a personal impact. She grew up in Albania when it straddled different political regimes in the 1990s. Her father, a politician, opposed the party in power part of the time. “It was a very difficult period for us, because we were all being watched,” she said. Her family suspects that the authorities have planted bugs in the wall of their house. But even in France, liberties are fragile. “For the past five years, France has lived in a state of emergency most of the time,” she said. “I have seen more and more constraints on our freedom.”
Concerns have been raised across the country. But the surveillance rollout has met with particular resistance in Marseille, France’s second-largest city. The bustling, rebellious Mediterranean town sits on several fault lines that run through modern France. Known for its trendy bars, artist studios and startup hubs, it also notorious for drugs, poverty and criminal activity. It has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in Europe but is stuck in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, a right-leaning region. City pushed back. Its attitude can be summed up by the graffiti you can pass while driving on the A7 motorway:”La vie est (re) belle. ”
All of which makes Marseille a curious testing ground for surveillance technology. When President Emmanuel Macron visited the city in September 2021, he announced that 500 other security cameras will be given to the city council. They will be located in an area of the city where there are large numbers of immigrants and have become synonymous with violence and gang activity. He emphasized a tone of law and order: “If we cannot succeed in Marseille, we cannot succeed in France.”
The announcement is just the latest in a string of developments in Marseille that underscore the growing reliance on cameras in public spaces.
Activists are protesting, highlighting the excessive approach and underperformance of the current surveillance system. Their message seems to resonate. In 2020, the city elected a new government, one that has pledged to ban video surveillance devices. But did the inhabitants of Marseille succeed, or simply withstood a high tide?
Technopolice, a network of campaigns and activists launched by the digital rights advocacy group La Quadntic du Net in collaboration with other groups, beginning in 2019. Félix Treguer, an associate researcher at the CNRS Center for Internet and Society, is one of the people behind the campaign. He had seen more and more articles in the French media about new surveillance projects and was shocked at how extraordinary they were. “[One] simply re-emphasizing the press release from the Marseille council,” he said.