The Technopolice Manifesto: Resisting the Total Surveillance of Our Cities and of Our Lives

In Septembre 2019, dozens of human rights organizations launched a participatory campaign to document the spread of “Safe City” projects across France, and resist the proliferation of automated videosurveillance and predictive policing technologies. Here is the Technopolice Manifesto.

Throughout France, Smart Cities are showing their real nature: one of total surveillance of urban areas for law enforcement purposes.

In Toulouse, Valenciennes, Strasbourg or Paris, local police forces are experimenting videosurveillance that is said to be “intelligent” because it is based on automated processing of video streams, enabling features such as facial recognition. In Saint-Étienne, a startup teamed up with the municipality to deploy in the inner city intelligent microphones, and alert the police in case of suspicious noise. A similar development is underway in Paris to monitor the level of noise around bars and cafés.

In Marseille and Nice, defense and utility contractors such as Thalès and Engie are working hand-in-hand with elected officials to push their “Safe City” projects, that are like Swiss army knifes tailored for security purposes whose applications range from the recognition of emotions in urban public spaces to the massive interconnection of databases for predictive policing purposes, not to mention the monitoring of online social networks. Computing technologies such as Big Data and Artificial Intelligence are the keystones of these various projects. They are the core building block for making sense of all the data that can be produced or collected, for establishing correlations, making statistical cross-checks, tracking individuals or managing places and services.

The so-called Smart City is turning our future into the Technopolice: Under the guise of optimization and decision support, they transform the whole urban world into a vast surveillance project. First, a large-scale surveillance dedicated to real-time control of flows of people and goods, through centralized management implemented from a hyperconnected command center. Then, targeted surveillance of individuals and groups: as soon as “suspicious” behavior is detected, police apparatus can be unleashed to “neutralize the threat” and suppress the smallest “breach of the peace.” Or, conversely, reward citizens deemed virtuous by the State.

But we just have to look in the mirror of history or other parts of the world to understand where the Technopolice is leading us: It is bound to reinforce forms of discrimination and segregation, muzzle social movements, depoliticize public spaces, automate both the police and denials of justice, and further dehumanize social relations. All this and more at huge financial and ecological costs, since it will take taxpayers’ money, rare earths, plenty of electricity and many other resources to build and run these infrastructures.

Apart from a few seemingly consensual applications, the Smart City will be mainly used to reinforce the power of merchants of fear, and hide as long as possible the ineptude of their policies. Technocrats rely on the Plan and the Machine to regulate our cities and our lives. Instead of the polis understood as a democratic city, as a pluralistic space of wandering, of impromptu meetings and confrontation with otherness, they want to bleed the city dry. The Technopolice looks like a gigantic test tube where the most advanced forms of social control are being developped.

Against this dystopia put forward by those who pretend to govern us, we call for unyielding resistance, in France and beyond.