‘Big Brother’ – France Installs Listening Devices in Crime-Ridden Town

29th June 1965: A poster with the famous words 'Big Brother is Watching You' from a BBC TV production of George Orwell's classic novel '1984'.
Larry Ellis/Express/Getty

French authorities will install tiny microphones in a crime-ridden neighbourhood to listen for suspicious noises and alert police, but residents worry they will be spied on by “Big Brother”.

Fifty “sound sensors” no bigger than a one-pound coin or American quarter will be installed on a six-month trial basis in the troubled Tarentaize-Beaubrun-Couriot district, in the city of Saint-Étienne in the Loire department, Le Parisien reports.

These sensors will alert the municipal police of any “suspicious” noise, such as “An accident, a scream, the sound of glass breaking, an aggression: these intelligent sound sensors will be able to distinguish abnormal noise,” the municipality officials suggested, claiming “the system does not record conversations or even hear them. It will only capture the alerts.”

A first across the whole of France, local officials say it will compliment existing video surveillance and form part of the city administration’s plans to turn Saint-Étienne into a “smart citt” — with smart meters, applications, and other innovative systems.

“People must be reassured, we will not spy on them,” said Jean-Pierre Berger and Jean-Noël Cornut, elected officials of the municipality, with Mr Berger adding: “People’s well-being also depends on greater security.”

The director of Serenicity, a company specialising in computer security and networks, Fabrice Koszyk, further added that “this device is not Big Brother,” attempting to reassure no privacy laws would be abused during the experiment.

Set to begin in March, the “smart ears” will be placed at height for maximum benefit of capturing sound. Asked whether residents will be informed of the location of the sensors, Mr Berger and Mr Cornut said “Signage is an issue that is not yet decided.”

Residents who spoke to Le Parisien said that the new measures would be like “spying” and said to stop crime more police officers should be put on the streets instead.

Retiree Bernard Mallet, who has been living in the neighbourhood for three years, told the newspaper, “It’s an aberration. I am against surveillance. There are already too many cameras, and now microphones! I do not think it’s the right way to give us more security. My opinion is that we need more police officers.”

Ahmad Draoui, who runs a sandwich shop, said, “I am in favour of a reinforced police presence… But microphones, I’m wait and see. They say they will not hear conversations, but I do not believe that too much. It still looks like disguised espionage.”

Local baker Berkame Lachcene, on the other hand, said, “Why not?”

“If these microphones make the area more peaceful and provides evidence in case of an incident, it is a good thing. For my part, they can spy on what they want, I have nothing to hide,” Mr Lachcene added.

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