Aguera from the French League of Human Rights (LDH) says, the Nice truck attack was proof cameras don’t prevent bad things from happening: “[The driver] passed 11 times under cameras during the week preceding the event.”
Estrosi, however, doubled down in response, suggesting to daily newspaper Le Parisien if cameras had been equipped with facial recognition the situation could have been different.
Residents had their doubts. Those who already felt queasy about the level of surveillance in the city started to ask, what is the purpose of so-called “safe city” technology, if it does not keep the city safe?
Back in January, Nice resident Laetitia Siccardi, who has campaigned against facial recognition and biometrics being deployed in her child’s school, told The Telegraph she was skeptical of the mayor’s attitude to technology. In 2019, Nice became the first French city to trial facial recognition.
“If there’s a terrorist attack, it won’t be stopped by facial recognition,” she said at the time.
A test-bed for safe-city tech
Since the 2016 truck attack, Nice has transformed itself into a test-bed for companies promising to make the city safer. Locals say this development is linked to an ambition to turn the nearby technology park called Sophia Antipolis into the “French Silicon Valley”.
Last year, the French company Thales described the city as a test-bed for new technology. “The city of Nice is becoming the pilot of safety in France by initiating full-scale tests to demonstrate what is supposed to happen in laboratories.” an article on its website says.
In 2018, the city launched a “safe city experimentation project” in partnership with a series of French surveillance and biometrics companies and led by Thales, which enabled them to come and test their technologies “in real conditions” in Nice while receiving feedback from local authorities.
For residents, the only obvious change arrived in the form of new dome-shaped security cameras that towered over the beachfront or busy wide-open boulevards.
Instead, these experiments mostly take place behind the scenes, in an “urban supervision” centre located next to a statue of Charles de Gaulle.
Documents obtained by digital rights group La Quadrature du Net reveal how this office is where algorithms crawl through camera footage, trying to understand what is happening in real-time, sending alerts to officers if it detects suspicious packages or crowds gathering.