A new democratic challenge?

The Internet is on the front line in the fight for democracy in a number of different countries. During the riots in Burma, in the course of the abuses carried out by local Chinese powers, throughout the former Yugoslavian conflict… it’s thanks to the Internet that those in opposition stayed in touch with each other and with the rest of the world. And the Internet has thus become both an easy and a moving target for authoritarian powers. But what about our “developed” democratic countries? Sure, they have freedom of speech. But surveillance is becoming more and more popular, and the digital is the ideal means for it. It is estimated that there are more than 5 million security cameras in public spaces in Great Britain in 2007. Other European countries, including France, are following the UK’s lead.

Other forms of technology, be they isolated from or associated with each other, could take surveillance to an unprecedented degree: widespread biometric identification, RFID chips in forms of identification, urban drones, geocaching, etc. These technologies could be used for other reasons, but they remain a means of leaving a greater trace, as well as ways of reading and retrieving information.


Now that we are being faced with the progressive impingement on the kinds of freedom these technologies have given us, social vigilance seems be somewhat lacking. France’s implementation of DNA testing for candidates for family-based reasons has certainly caused much protest, but just a few years ago, such a proposition could not have even been expressed. Same thing when it comes to filing the DNA of petty criminals and even mere suspects, or electronic bracelets attached to former detainees, asylum seekers, Alzheimer’s’ patients and even children, to the prenatal detection of “asocial” predispositions. There are some people that protest these uses, but on the whole, such debate does not often mobilize opinion.