During the 22 November 2007 hearing of Mrs. Michèle Alliot-Marie, Minister of Home Affairs, Overseas Territories & Local Authorities, CNIL reminded the Minister that increasing numbers of CCTV cases were referred to CNIL for review. Accordingly, it would appear necessary to clarify the applicable statutory texts and most of all to harmonise, if not unify, the various systems of formalities (between CNIL and the local authorities' video-surveillance commissions). The Law of 21 January 1995 was adopted in an era were video-surveillance was done primarily with analog recordings on magnetic tape, and it should therefore be reviewed today to take into account the CCTV technology changes.
In addition, the co-existence of two different legal systems for CCTVs installed in public or in private facilities, causes confusion and misunderstandings. It would prove beneficial to consider endowing CNIL with sole oversight powers on video-surveillance systems installed both in public and private facilities, in the context of a revision of existing statutes relative to the subject. The Commission would however require a substantial increase of its resources in order to fulfil such duties.
The issue of video-surveillance is emblematic of the much broader issues confronting data protection authorities. The expansion of video-surveillance devices responds to growing demands for collective security expressed by our fellow citizens - don't we also speak of “video-protection”? (a term used by Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie at her November 2007 hearing) - and may also be explained by a boom in available technologies. Yet, it should not lead to any generalised surveillance, which may in turn deprive citizens of their liberties.
Recent government announcements on the subject have further intensified the necessity for investigating the resources allocated to institutions responsible for controlling these devices (planned installation of nearly 90,000 CCTV cameras in public areas, planned interconnection between the video-surveillance networks of RATP and SNCF, installation of cameras in places of worship, enterprises and department stores).
From a technology standpoint, IP video-surveillance, enabling the transmission and remote viewing of images via internet or a mobile device, has become increasingly common. Likewise, intelligent image analysis software (used to detect “suspicious behaviours” or abandoned objects, count passer-bys, monitor individuals in a crowd, etc.) have become a reality.
While our society can perhaps hope to gain a higher level of collective security, we must however ensure the legitimacy of these developments and also guarantee the protection of our liberties. Several prerequisites must prevail to this purpose. Firstly, the goal pursued must be clearly defined, along with the means and resources planned to reach it. We also need to ensure that our Commission is endowed with the necessary means of investigation in order to protect individual rights. Lastly, we must make sure that an evaluation system is implemented in order to objectively assess the process after a certain development time. Only if these prerequisites are fulfilled, will our fellow citizens accept measures designed to enhance collective security and be reassured about respect for their fundamental right to personal data protection.
Based on a bank of pre-recorded pictures connected to a video-surveillance device and to an automatic facial recognition system, it is now technically possible to identify an individual within a crowd. While this technology still remains embryonic, it is essential to understand its increasingly intrusive nature, since our freedom to move around anonymously could be seriously challenged.