Transparent Society Pushback


In France, some people find it amusing to film their friends committing violent crimes. The French government has a solution:

The French Constitutional Council has approved a law that criminalizes the filming or broadcasting of acts of violence by people other than professional journalists. The law could lead to the imprisonment of eyewitnesses who film acts of police violence, or operators of Web sites publishing the images, one French civil liberties group warned on Tuesday…

The government has also proposed a certification system for Web sites, blog hosters, mobile-phone operators and Internet service providers, identifying them as government-approved sources of information if they adhere to certain rules.

The Council gets today's bad timing award for publishing its decision exactly 16 years after a random guy filmed the Rodney King beatings. 

The always camera-ready Julian Sanchez hailed citizen surveillance back in 2005.

NEXT: No Love For McCain-Feingold

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  1. Next stop, journalist licenses.

  2. WHA?!?!?!? BuT but bb bub bu t THATS CRAZY TALK I I I What do YOU CAN’tn fe;kja BEGAAAACK!!1


  3. I wonder if the filmers of those youtube videos of people fighting can be prosecuted for not having a fight promoter’s license. If amateurs can promote fights, it’ll give the credentialed professionals like Don King a bad name.

    This French idea will discourage idiotic criminals from providing more evidence that can be used to arrest and convict them. They ought to be subsidizing ways of getting criminals to document their crimes.

  4. Isn’t a guy who rides along with his buddies as they on a crime spree, for the purpose of recording the whole thing, already an accessory?

  5. joe,

    Yeah, but that’s an old law that, while being applicable, doesn’t get on us on the teevee talking about this exciting new law that does the same thing as the old law but with one huge difference: it’s new and it gets me on the teevee.

  6. This is a dumb law, but lately I’ve started to wonder about the use of recording devices in public places.

    There is a long standing common law notion that you have no right to privacy in a public place, for the pretty simple and obvious reason that everyone can see you in a public place. For this reason, police surveillance of anything you do in a public place [or anything you do on your own property which can be “detected” by police standing in a public place] is not considered “private”.

    But I’m starting to wonder if rules that made sense when the limit of observation was human vision and memory still make sense when every single last act can be permanently recorded, saved, blown up, analyzed, digitized, etc.

    Our frame of reference for what constitutes reasonable lack of scrutiny may not really apply themselves very well to the mass distribution and deployment of recording technology.

    To make a comparison, consider the use of surveillance technology to photograph and ticket speeders. The problem I have with it is that the existing speed limits essentially everywhere are relics of a time when it wasn’t that easy for the police to detect you if you drove in excess of the posted speed. They weren’t put in place during a time of 100% compliance and 0% evasion, and frankly aren’t very well designed for such a system. All those 30 MPH and 10 MPH zones are “really” in place to govern your speed down to a reasonable “I won’t get a ticket if I go this speed” level. If actually enforced, they’re unreasonable and nearly intolerable.

    I think it’s possible that public recording, by either individuals or governments, may be reaching a similar point. It’s unreasonable for me to expect my behavior to be “private” if you can see me in public; however, it may also be unreasonable for you to be able to capture my image digitally and make it part of your permanent entertainment collection. But for the life of me I don’t know how to adjudicate this.

  7. joe,

    I believe France took all the accessory laws off the books during the Vichy government.


    Snipe that Merkin-shire!

  8. Fluffy’s points are excellent and bring up some interesting questions about the nature of “citizen surveillance”.

    In a democracy, I’d think the line between citizens recording your every move and the government doing it is not a totally distinct one.

  9. The article doesn’t say that there is an exception for police personnel who make videotapes of violent acts in the course of their work.

  10. At the police station…

    “Officer, I looked out my window and saw somebody beat up my next door neighbor!”

    “Ok. Do you have a description of that person?”

    “Even better–I grabbed my cell phone and took some pictures!”

    “You have the right to remain silent…”

    THIS is a good idea? It seems like outlawing the act of taking pictures of a violent crime would keep any non-governmental and non-journalist surveillance video from ever being introduced into evidence.

  11. I would be helpful to have a link about this new law from a more neutral source.

    Macworld’s article is as much an editorial as anything and doesn’t give us much explanation as to why French officials felt this law was necessary.

  12. THIS is a good idea? It seems like outlawing the act of taking pictures of a violent crime would keep any non-governmental and non-journalist surveillance video from ever being introduced into evidence.

    Or if you were a convenience store or hotel owner who happened to catch a film of a jet flying into the French defense headquarters. Why the government could confiscate your film!

  13. Fluffy,

    If that were the case, why haven’t turnpikes issued on-the-spot speeding tickets upon exit for decades? A state Turnpike Commission surely should know the legal minimum time from Exit x to Exit y; why not use the timestamp on the stubs for speeding tickets.

  14. Keith – maybe they just didn’t think of it.

    Dave – here is a Foxnews link to the story:,2933,257180,00.html

    They aren’t exactly a libertarian outlet. Although they are a “We Hate France” outlet, so maybe that cancels their standard love of authoritarianism out, I don’t know.

  15. Anything that reduces French film making of any sort is a good thing.

  16. Dave – here is a Foxnews link to the story:

    FOX picked up the story from…Macworld.

  17. Dan,

    I think this law is based on a combination of things.

    1) French criminal law is based on the Napoleonic code, which I think treats the ride-alongs as a “delit” which is a sort of low-grade felony/high-grade misdemeanour. By this law, they might be enabling people who ride along filming their friends to be charged as having comitted a high-grade crime.

    2) It is useful for preventing oversight of the police. France has had a serious problem with police brutality This law will enable the police to shutdown people who attempt to gather evidence of police misconduct.

    3) It is a useful tool in pressuring witnesses to give testimony favoring the prosecution. A witness who produced a photographic record can be indicted at any time at the magistrate’s discretion.

    I personally don’t like it; as joe pointed out being an accessory is already illegal.

  18. Thanks, tarran. It certainly doesn’t strike me as a good law, ether.

  19. U.S. troops accused of deleting Afghan journalists’ photos

    Afghan journalists covering the aftermath of a suicide bomb attack and shooting in eastern Afghanistan yesterday said U.S. troops deleted their photos and video and warned them not to publish or air any images of U.S. troops or a car where three Afghans were shot to death.

  20. So, security cameras are now illegal if they do their job and catch someone committing a crime?

  21. To make a comparison, consider the use of surveillance technology to photograph and ticket speeders. The problem I have with it is that the existing speed limits essentially everywhere are relics of a time when it wasn’t that easy for the police to detect you if you drove in excess of the posted speed.

    Then isn’t this a problem of speed limits and not the methods used to catch speeders? I mean, if a police man sits beside the road with a radar gun, how is it any different than a camera with a radar gun attached other than the policeman doesn’t have to engage in pursuit in order to issue the citation? If the concern is the accuracy of the speed limit detection device (eyes vs. radar gun) then it still isn’t an issue with the camera.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not looking forward to the day when every.single.movement I make in public is captured, for posterity, on camera by police. In fact, with that kind of surveillance “secret” meetings in public places like those our founders had could never take place. I recently watched something about a group of British researchers that are working on a software system designed to track an individual from one camera’s coverage area to another’s. Very creepy indeed.

  22. …Um, guys – I don’t think that keeping an eye on the Gendermerie is what this is about. This is about the embarassment of the French government last year when Unnamed Youths Of No Particular Religious Persuasion were burning thousands of cars and attacking the cops. If it had been up to the French government and media, all we ever would have heard was that there were some minor disturbances in some cities. Instead, citizen journalists got out the pictures of the burning busses and cars and the beaten cops. It was on the strength of those reports (among others) that led to the State Department actually putting out a short-lived travel warning for France at one point.
    The French government could care less about taking pics of the cop on the beat harassing someone. What they don’t want is evidence of an intifada getting out.


  23. Kwix:

    I’m sorry, I’m not expressing myself very well. This is a problem that I’ve been trying to get my mind around for a while, and I can only express my thoughts on it haltingly.

    Here’s what I’m trying to say:

    We have a society of rules – laws, regulations, bureaucratic regulations. The overwhelming majority of those rules were initially devised for a set of circumstances that only required “X” percent compliance. There are laws against jaywalking, but if you cross against the light at 3 in the morning when no one is around you won’t get a citation. There are laws stipulating how long to stop at a stop sign, but people roll through stop signs. There are any number of “soft points” in government bureaucratic procedure that allow you to not fill a form out perfectly, do something a bit late, etc. and still get your business accomplished. We could probably come up with dozens of examples of ways in which the “written” rules aren’t the rules we actually live by – we live by a modification of the written rules.

    And what I’m saying is that the written rules only make sense BECAUSE we don’t live by them, but live by the modification of them. We’re in a sort of equilbrium where the practical difficulty of enforcing every last rule in our system by the letter prevents those rules from becoming abusive or absurd.

    And technology is rapidly eliminating that “breathing space” between our written rules and actual enforcement. Improving databases make it difficult to “finesse” bureaucratic procedure. Improving technology has made law enforcement dream of being able to perfectly enforce the law as written. And what I’m saying is that when that breathing space has been totally eliminated, a lot of people are going to suddenly realize that it sucks.

    And the presence of constant surveillance in public places brings that day closer to coming. I don’t think very many people are affectless enough to be able to put up with a panopticon culture. But it’s coming. And I don’t see how we arrest that process without in some way redefining our ability to “own” our own privacy even in acknowledged public places.

  24. Wasn’t it the French government that was concerned about Turkey joining the EU? …something about the people there not appreciating Western liberal values?

    Well France is looking more like Turkey all the time. …a Turkish court has now blocked You Tube in the country “because of videos allegedly insulting the founder of modern Turkey…”

  25. Fluffy,
    Okay, that makes perfect sense and I agree with the bulk of your sentiment.

    And what I’m saying is that when that breathing space has been totally eliminated, a lot of people are going to suddenly realize that it sucks.

    And this is bad? Seriously, if you want egregious laws overturned, make sure they are enforced to a ‘T’, no exceptions.

    Caught with coke and the sentence is 20 years. Then enforce the law by golly. No exceptions, lawyers, politicians, suburban housewives, everybody in the slammer for 20 years and see just how quickly that law(or the punishment) changes.

    Same applies to the students who demonstrated the idiocy of the 55mph speed limit in Atlanta by driving exactly 55mph in all lanes on I285 during a midmorning exercise. If police were to pull over and cite every single driver doing more than 55mph, I would hope that the outcry would be to increase the speed limit to a more reasonable one closer to what people actually drive.

    Now, the sad part is that many people would feel that any law, any punishment is good and righteous but I think that enough people would feel the sting of encroachment to fight back.

  26. The jig is up. We surrender.

  27. If violence is outlawed, only inlaws won’t be violent.

  28. Kwix:

    This is probably a dead thread, so my answer might not be seen, but here’s the problem: rules are “sticky”. Once in place they tend to stay in place.

    No politician is going to endorse raising the speed limit in a residential zone to 45, because that’s anti-“safety”.

    The fact that something is egregious does not automatically mean that a rule will be undone. Look at the threads above this one about Sarbanes-Oxley and about trans fats. These seem to be instances where everyone agrees that the rules were poorly designed and are having unintended consequences, but they will never be changed because if you try to change Sarbanes-Oxley you’re pro-Enron and if you point out that trans fats occur in some foods naturally you want obese children to die of heart attacks.

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