The security of citizens is a subject that is debated in public opinion. Indeed, dramatic cases such as that of George Floyd in the United States have experienced international media coverage, in particular thanks to the dissemination of private videos that have gone viral. This event unfortunately contributed to arouse the distrust of citizens vis-à-vis the police.
The general public therefore expects more transparency on the truth of the facts and witnesses no longer hesitate to use one of the most widespread weapons on a daily basis to restore it, namely the camera of their cell phone. At the same time, citizens expect their elected representatives to create the conditions guaranteeing their security at all times and, if necessary, that justice can be done easily and quickly. This is what we see with the Comprehensive Security Law because regulatory reform is essential.
In this context, and that of the health crisis that we are experiencing, those responsible for public authority are more than ever under pressure even though they too are citizens. Each abuse, publicized or not, weakens the relationship between citizens and the police. And unfortunately, when people no longer trust the police, the risk is that they will take justice into their own hands. According to an OpinionWay study from May 2021 *, 85% of French people are in favor of automatically triggering cameras as soon as a weapon is out of its holster or an electric pulse pistol is fired. So, if video technology can make it possible to mediate and reveal abuses or abuses, could we not generalize their use so that it also and above all serves to prevent them, or even to accelerate the administrative and judicial processes?
Technology and camera: a paradigm shift to restore confidence
First and foremost, trust must be restored between the population and those holding public authority. Today, the collection of images via pedestrian cameras makes it possible to provide legally valid evidence, both to protect citizens and law enforcement. If this is no longer the subject of controversy, some fear that they are used for “facial recognition” which remains a concern. So much so that some senators have proposed an amendment ** to the law on global security. The law regulates the use of video protection, pedestrian cameras and drones by law enforcement and security services. This amendment aimed to prohibit the processing of images from different types of cameras by facial recognition software, for fear of the risk of mass surveillance of the population. While this amendment was massively rejected ***, it highlights the persistent mistrust vis-à-vis the use of facial recognition technology at European level and its potential excesses. The defenders of this amendment indeed underline the wish of the European Commission to temporarily ban this technology.
The long-term challenge is, on the one hand, to guarantee citizens’ individual freedoms and their privacy, and on the other hand, to capitalize on the potential of technology by explaining uses. Video already plays an important role in the daily life and private life of the French. However, it remains a sensitive societal subject, the use of the data collected is debated because the technology and its applications are unknown or even distorted by disaster-scenario films, and because historically in the world, certain wars are waged through screens.
The judicial system, directly concerned by the issue of data exploitation
There are heated debates between the “pro” and the “anti” technology applied to the security sphere and a question keeps coming up: what is the expected purpose behind the technological equipment of the police? The global security law will regulate the use of the data collected. But beyond the tools and equipment, it is the entire system in place for decades that must be rethought in the service of the common good. Police officers spend less than a quarter of their time in the field, the rest being spent on administrative tasks. The digital transition of their profession but also that of justice are at the heart of the subject and it is essential to improve collaboration between the executive and the judiciary and speed up the processing of cases.
The French administration is the subject of complaints from citizens who want more simplicity and dematerialization. The process of digitizing institutions is underway, but moving from the paper world to the digital world takes time. The whole challenge of this digitalization of the police is to be able, on the one hand, to be more efficient in the resolution of cases, but also to provide and guarantee the integrity of the evidence, in video or pictorial format, transmitted to the magistrates. who must make informed and impartial decisions.
At the end of the chain, it is the service provided to citizens that is at stake. If they are asking for more transparency, it is quite simply because the confidence they have in the current system has been eroded and it must be corrected. It is also an expectation of several types of professions, in the first ranks of which the police, the gendarmerie, the fire brigade, the penitentiary, the transport agents, aware that this transformation is necessary to work efficiently but also to prove that there is still more stories that end well, even if they do not make the headlines.
* OpinionWay study commissioned by Axon, “The French and new technologies” – May 2021
** tabled on October 20, 2020 by deputies Jean-Michel Fauvergue and Alice Thourot and adopted at first reading with modifications by the National Assembly on November 24, 2020, then by the Senate on March 18, 2021.
*** 248 votes against and 98 votes in favor.