Copwatch Nord IdF – the website that terrifies the French Interior Ministry
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.
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:
6) Have you been able to get legal help?
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.
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.
Follow Liberté-info on Twitter
Did you like this interview? We are a small group of volunteers creating content and updating news on this site. We need more volunteers to help promote and defend digital democracy and whistleblowers. Help us move to the next level! Get involved in a critical issue for the future of democracy! Join us!
Also, please consider supporting us through a bitcoin donation: 1Pn8DSto8ey294p11swNiboRDwzwXh41cR
This work by Association Liberté-info is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License