Privacy campaigners are worried about a nationwide plan to treble the number of public CCTV cameras in cities, towns and villages across France.
President Sarkozy wants 2011 to be the year that "vidéoprotection" goes mainstream, and has set a target of 60,000 cameras watching public spaces around the country by the end of this year, up from the current 20,000.
Nice has recently led the way by installing hundreds of cameras linked to a state-of-the-art surveillance centre, and Paris is set to follow. The word videosurveillance is rarely used, with public officials preferring terms such as vidéoprotection, vidéoprévention and even vidéotranquillité.
However, the biggest growth has been in the private use of CCTV. The French data protection authority, Cnil (the Commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertés) says it is aware of more than 400,000 privately run CCTV cameras in France. Cnil is concerned that the safeguards in place to protect people cannot cope with a sharp rise in the use of videosurveillance.
Despite this, Cnil research suggests that 71 per cent of French people approve the idea of videosurveillance in public places. Jean-Claude Vitran, a member of the Ligue des Droits de l'Homme and the group's national campaigner on CCTV, fears people are coming to accept that France is "becoming a surveillance society".
Mr Vitran said: "The state is lying when it uses the word vidéoprotection; video has never protected anyone. When you install a camera, the crime moves elsewhere. Criminals put on a crash helmet or balaclava: they're not idiots."
The interior ministry has previously said it is keen to avoid the "Anglo-Saxon" approach to CCTV, and France is certainly still a long way behind the UK, which has four million cameras.
The issue has divided politicians. Socialist party leader Martine Aubry says videosurveillance is not "a miracle solution", but a number of Socialist mayors, including Gérard Collomb in Lyon and Manuel Valls in Evry are very enthusiastic supporters of CCTV.
On an official visit to a CCTV surveillance centre in Orléans earlier this year, Nicolas Sarkozy said: "This isn't a left-wing or right-wing issue. The cameras are there to help the police maintain public order.
"The best way to help the police and the gendarmerie do their job is to massively invest in technology. For years, we only focused on staff numbers. Numbers are important, but it's not all. Having a lot of staff and little equipment doesn't allow for an effective police force."
While Nice and Paris have caught most of the headlines, it is not only an urban issue. For example, the village of Thillay, in the Val d'Oise, spent 20 per cent of its municipal budget, €250,000, on CCTV last year to protect its 4,000 inhabitants.
NICE: The CCTV capital of France and proud of it
Nice announced last March that it had become the CCTV capital of France, with the opening of a state-of-the-art €7.6m surveillance centre with access to 500 cameras.
Since then, the scheme has grown. Today there are 624 public cameras around the city and plans for another 100 by the end of this year: one camera per 500 inhabitants.
The number of municipal police is growing at a similar pace: 100 extra officers recruited since 2009, bringing the total to 380. The mairie de Nice insists they are not all sitting in the 24/7 "urban supervision centre", glued to the huge 52-inch LCD screens, although, at any one time, the centre has 60 staff reviewing the footage.
Police on the ground are equipped with satellite tracking devices, allowing the control room to find and alert the nearest officer if anything is spotted on the cameras.
The newly installed cameras concentrate on the outskirts of schools, as well as cemeteries, sports centres, parks, gardens and other "sensitive areas". Police also have access to 42 cameras on the tram network. The cameras allow the municipal police to keep an eye on large gatherings such as demonstrations and public events, such as the city's carnival, which continues this month and attracts more than a million visitors.
On the first anniversary of the initiative, authorities in the most-watched town in France say the results have been positive, and mayor Christian Estrosi is proud of
the scheme. At a recent press conference outlining the results so far, he told reporters: "It is so powerful that it allows us to arrest pickpockets before their victims even know they have been robbed."
He gave the example of a drunk man, slumped on the pavement one evening last October. Two passers-by stole his wallet' police saw everything on the cameras. The pair were
arrested within two minutes and officers returned the victim's wallet the following morning: he had not realised it was missing.
Opposition councillors say having 60 staff in the surveillance centre means 60 people not on the beat, preventing crime. Emmanuelle Gaziello, a Communist, said the relatively small number of arrests from CCTV, compared to all the crimes committed in the city, meant the system was not delivering a sufficient return on the investment. Patrick Allemand, a Socialist, added: "It is useful for spotting crimes, but does nothing to prevent them."
However, Nice communications director Elodie Ching said the cameras' effect on crime had been "very positive". She said that since the system was introduced last spring, more than 250 people have been arrested for crimes detected by the cameras.
"The urban supervision centre is just one extra tool that completes the wide range of methods the municipal police use to fight against crime," Ms Ching told The Connexion.
The presence of videosurveillance also makes the public feel safer. "Installing a camera somewhere dissuades yobs; all the local residents' groups in Nice have asked us for cameras," she added.
Nice has made security one of its top priorities for 2011 and Mr Estrosi has set aside a further 3m to improve the CCTV scheme. However, unlike Paris, Nice says it has no plans to broaden the surveillance network to include privately installed cameras, outside hotels, offices and apartment blocks. It says protecting people's privacy is important: the street-side cameras, that can zoom up to 200 metres and rotate 360 degrees are set up automatically to mask private areas, such as direct views into living rooms.
Another new development in Nice is the use of the cameras to fine drivers who double-park, block pedestrian crossings, emergency access routes and cycle paths. The system has been implemented in three streets in Nice that are notorious for slow-moving traffic. The cameras are equipped with number-plate recognition and a fixed-penalty fine notice is sent to whoever holds the carte grise for the vehicle.
The initiative has significantly improved the flow of traffic and been "very effective" ... perhaps too effective: income from fines has plunged as a result, from 90 tickets a week (at €35 each) to just 20.
PARIS: €200m network comes on stream
Until now, Paris been relatively under-equipped in terms of CCTV, with just 400 cameras for a population of 2.2 million. The 19th arrondissement has just one camera.
That is all going to change by the end of this year. The Mairie de Paris has begun work on a vast new videosurveillance network, costing €200m, that will allow police to view images from 13,000 public and private cameras.
The initiative will see 1,100 new roadside cameras installed around the arrondissements of Paris, focusing on accident blackspots, large public spaces and areas hit by delinquency. The full list of addresses has been made public, and the outer arrondissements will have the most cameras: especially the 13th, 14th, 15th, 18th and 19th.
For the first time, each of the capital's 20 local police stations will have a surveillance room to keep an eye on its local cameras, instead of the footage being visible uniquely from a central control room on the Ile de la Cité.
The system differs from Nice in that it includes both public and private cameras. Some 10,000 cameras on the RATP public transport network and the SNCF within the Ile-de-France will be included in the network, plus 2,000 private cameras installed in Printemps, the Galeries Lafayette, the Forum des Halles, Stade de France and Parc des Princes. Each of the private camera owners has signed an agreement with the state setting out how the footage is used and stored.
The Paris préfet de police Michel Gaudin said: "Video will not substitute the work of officers, but it will undeniably revolutionise the way they work."
However, one campaign group, Paris sans Vidéosurveillance, is calling for the plan to be put on hold pending a public consultation. The body, which represents 33 associations and local branches of political parties including the Greens and the Communists, said: "The public safety problems used to justify the project will not be solved by cameras.
"The Mairie has held a few private meetings about where the cameras should be placed, but the Parisians have not been consulted. We want better transparency. A genuine debate on camera surveillance between the mairie and citizens is indispensable."
ELSEWHERE IN FRANCE
Carcassonne: The Socialist mayor, Jean-Claude Pérez, wants 11 more cameras, on top of the six that already watch over the old town. The cameras were introduced in 2008, but their range and picture quality has proved ineffective. The new cameras will be installed near existing ones to improve visibility, at a cost of 100,000. The local branch of the Ligue des Droits de l'Homme says not enough information has been provided by the police about how the system has fared so far. "Video-surveillance is not a panacea," the group said. The presence of police officers would be a lot more dissuasive. There needs to be a proper public debate on this."
Lyon: Socialist mayor Gérard Collomb has invested heavily in CCTV over the past decade, but a recent report by the Cour des Comptes spending watchdog found the results were questionable. It said the link between extra cameras and a decline in delinquency could not be proved. Lyon recorded a 33 per cent drop in crime between 2003 and 2008, while nearby suburb Villeurbanne, which has no public cameras, saw crime drop 48 per cent over the same period.
Amiens: Since installing its first camera in 1995, Amiens has spent almost 1m on 47 others, which can rotate and zoom up to 300 metres.
Cahors: The préfet of the Lot is keen to see CCTV introduced in the town, but its mayor, Socialist Jean-Marc Vayssouze-Faure, has strong reservations. A public debate is under way.
TOulouse: Socialist mayor Pierre Cohen has refused to implement a widespread CCTV network, insisting that any new public cameras should be considered on a case-by-case basis. For the moment, the 440,000-population city has just 17 cameras.
Evry: Local authorities in the Essonne town have spent 4m on a network of cameras. A 24-hour surveillance centre has been set up to keep an eye on the footage.
On the trains: The French rail operator SNCF is working to almost double the number of CCTV cameras it uses by 2013, from 14,400 to 25,000, at a cost of 350m.
ACROSS THE CHANNEL
Sixty-thousand cameras around France might sound like nothing from a British perspective. The UK is the world leader in videosurveillance, beginning its first experiments into CCTV in the 1970s. While precise figures are hard to come by, it is estimated that Britain is monitored by more than four million cameras; about one camera for every 14 people, including half a million on private premises in London. If you live in the capital, you are likely to be filmed up to 300 times a day.
The Home Office has spent a large amount of its crime prevention budget on CCTV. London alone has 10,000 public cameras. Recent developments include facial recognition technology, which scans and automatically identifies people's faces in crowds, and the launch of a new privately owned website, Internet Eyes, that pays the public up to £1,000 to monitor live commercial CCTV footage and click an alert button to notify the business owner if they spot a crime taking place.
Civil liberties campaign group Liberty says: "While CCTV technology is becoming more sophisticated, regulation and safeguards have not kept apace.
"Our main concern is that CCTV is dangerously unregulated. There is no binding legislation governing where CCTV cameras can be placed or who can operate them. And data protection legislation governing how long the images can be kept and accessed, has failed to keep up with technological changes."