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Copwatch Nord IdF – the website that terrifies the French Interior Ministry

Claude Guéant, French Minister of the Interior, is famous for his at best contradictory, at worst fascist-leaning discourse. His hatred of freedom of speech and of the press is equaled only by his hatred of immigrants and their children. Is it surprising to see him turn a blind eye on police abuse of peaceful citizens and see him accuse a group of activists who make public those abuses? No.

What is surprising is that, at the same time he is implicated in the Takieddine affair, he chooses to attract even more attention to himself by creating a new controversy that does not serve his interests. As Guéant pressed for, a court decided October 14 to block Copwatch Nord IdF's website (not yet taking place two weeks later). His action had the opposite effect intended: it provided Copwatch Nord IdF and its cause with astounding publicity and rallied supporters who set up dozens of mirrors. Thanks, Mr. Guéant for your sanguine nature and lack of clairvoyance.

At Liberté-info we think that police (law enforcement in general) deserve respect if only because of the toughness of their job. However, we think that those who cross the limits of their duties and abuse citizen rights should be duly prosecuted by their chain of command, starting with the Ministry of the Interior. The latter should clearly condemn any such behavior. If not quickly remedied, it becomes chronic as it is already today. By turning a blind eye on it, Mr. Guéant opens the gates to endemic authoritarianism in France.

We can only encourage you to visit Copwatch Nord IdF's website (on which you will find the links to many other Copwatch websites) or, if it gets blocked, one of its mirrors. Also, stay alert for any police abuse, take out your your smartphone and record it. Of course, your safety is paramount, so don't put yourself in danger while doing this.

We will keep you informed of new developments regarding this case, so stay tuned on our website, or follow our Twitter account.

– interview 20-10-2011 by Mehdi with personnel behind the site
who must remain anonymous

 

– translated by Mehdi on 26-10-2011

1) Tell us about the birth of your project and how it works with similar projects in other cities/countries? What is your inspiration?

We've been working for several years on cop watching in different cities, Paris and northern France. Historically, it is in Calais that copwatching started with work by the late activist Zetkin. Her work inspired us and pushed to keep it in Calais, then in Lille and Paris. We've developed it into a tool that can be used by anyone for both recognition and identification: a database.

Of course, we have been looking at what was being done in the U.S., its effect, the way it works... despite the fact that we do not have direct links with those activist groups.

2) Does your work consist solely of exposing police agents who perform objectionable acts?

It is not only about objectionable acts. We want our readers to know situations they may encounter when confronted by a police agent – whether during a simple ID check or during a protest. Our tracking shows repeated misconduct from the same agent.

3) Among criticism is that it exposes individuals with their full name, Twitter account - information considered private. This can distance the debate from the often political origin of authoritarian and oppressive practice. How do you manage to balance these issues?

These persons make their information public via social web sites such as Facebook andTwitter – if they don't want it known, they should not furnish it. Other agent information is provided from those who have been taken into custody. About the full name – we consider that law enforcement agents have made the choice through the careers they have chosen to become public persons. Identifying them by badge number usually results in an aggressive ID check or in some cases being taken into custody.
We remind that police behavior is linked to government security policy that has been cracking down more and more for nearly 30 years. We plan to write articles on this topic soon; restricting civil freedom is often underrated.

4) What are the most remarkable examples of abuse that you have exposed?

It is difficult to underline "the most remarkable" because of the large number of abuses we have exposed or witnessed. It is even more difficult to prioritize them. To cite a few: chronicles at Barbès or Belleville and the Calais report by local activists the "Smudge" section.

5) French Interior Minister, Claude Guéant – notorious for his authoritarian practices and contradictory announcements (not to mention implication in the Karachi affair) – recently attacked your website and asked a court to filter (by ISPs) your web pages because of alleged defamatory and insulting content against police agents. Ironically, the initial effect was to give you a high profile otherwise not affordable. Generally speaking, how did you take it?

It was timely. We wouldn't have wanted to pay for such publicity either! As stated in our releases, such a reaction didn't surprise us:

« The police felt victimized; the trembling state as usual followed the straight line of its field representatives and unions, historically the case, whether it was "security measures," or against a fringe group or during an open confrontation. This doesn't surprise us.»

We know we are not infallible. Our domain name registrar has been the main mistake we made, and not the least. We have laughed a lot at the masquerade that Guéant and the government set up and what is told to journalists – that we are uncatchable, unidentifiable, as was our web host and DNS registrar. This is all false, we see it as a strategy to justify a lack of action against us. Or perhaps avoid other things getting revealed and attract too much attention, given the media buzz this created.

6) Have you been able to get legal help?

Yes.

7) To circumvent blocking your website (only the poorly informed believe that blocking can be avoided with Tor, for example), you decided to create mirrors of your website. Where is this?

Mirrors multiplied rapidly, indicating widespread solidarity against censorship (although not always for content of our website). The Internet is a fantastic tool for that.

8) If your website gets filtered, what advice do you give your readers to stay informed?

The lists of mirrors generally keep track of updates. If you check them regularly, visitors will be able to follow us almost in real time. Otherwise, we cannot recommend Tor enough.

9) In many cases (if not all) in which citizens expose government or corporate abuse, focus is on the messenger rather than the message. The messenger becomes the subject of harassment or even judicial action through lawsuits for defamation as in your case. The right to privacy is highjacked to serve not the powerless citizen, but the powerful few, giving them even more power for abuse. Do you agree with this, and what is your experience in this regard?

Agreed for the most part.This is what happened in our case. Guéant's rhetoric was geared to criminalize us. He never questioned the behavior of the police we exposed. In some cases (police in Lille), misconduct has never been admitted, although recognized by police supervisors – not by Mr. Guéant.

Broadly speaking, the strategy prevails of not getting to the bottom of things – simply trying to discredit the messengers. The DSK affair relied on this; French political discourse and quarrels work this way – creating a spectacle to put the masses to sleep while hiding the reality of what is happening. The worst thing is that it works.

10) Are you looking for volunteers? With what background/experience?

Err...we don't ask for resumes... We are open to technical advice and help from the field.We prefer if individuals or groups act in an autonomously and build their own site (in other cities), or they can send us their documents so that we can put them on our website.

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