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Protests planned against microphone surveillance in French streets

Tarentaise district, Saint Etienne
Tarentaise district, Saint Etienne Google Street View

A plan to install microphones on streets in the southeastern French town of Saint Etienne has angered some locals, with calls to come out onto the streets on Saturday to protest against what they say is an invasion of privacy. 


The first three sound sensors were to be installed this week in the Tarentaize district, as part of a pilot scheme, according to France Bleu radio station.

The mayor of the district, which has a high incidence of crime, says the idea is to make it easier for police to intervene quickly if suspect sounds such as gunfire or breaking glass are detected.

Although the sensors are not very visible, the company installing them asserts that nothing they detect will be recorded and insists that the intention is not to listen in on the public.

"The system cannot record conversations, or even hear them, it will only capture alert sounds," Sébastian Valla, the town official overseeing the project, recently told France Info radio.

He said alert sounds are then sent to the local police using a digital platform developed by a company called Serenicity.

Residents concerned

Residents of Tarentaize were invited to attend a public meeting to learn more about the trial scheme but some remain worried.

They fear possible infringements of their civil liberties, although the CNIL, France's civil liberties watchdog, has given the scheme the green light.

Opponents plan a demonstration on Saturday 11 May.

They are urging people to bring saucepans and drums and to make as much noise as possible "to make the sensors explode".

It was not immediately clear if the sensors would be switched on by Saturday but the authorities hope to assess the results of the pilot scheme by the end of June.

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