Video protection in France: from Safe City to Smart City

The deployment of video protection is exponential in France: in 1999 there were only 60 municipalities equipped with such a system, today there are more than 6,000 of them for more than 902,000 cameras (figures from the Ministry of Finance). This figure is expected to increase further in view of innovations in these surveillance systems, which provide new opportunities and uses, particularly for the Smart City of tomorrow.

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What is video protection?

The term video protection should not be confused with video surveillance.

A video protection system is an image capture system that falls within the scope of articles L.223-1 to L.223.0 and L.251-1 to L.255-1 of the Internal Security Code.

Article 18 of Act n°2011-267 of 14 March 2011 on guidance and programming for the performance of internal security, known as Loppsi 2, sets out the conditions for implementing a video protection system. "The transmission and recording of images taken on the public highway by means of video protection may thus be implemented by the public authorities competent to:

  • Protection of public buildings and installations and their surroundings,
  • The safeguarding of facilities useful for national defence,
  • The regulation of transport flows,
  • The recording of traffic violations,
  • The prevention of offences against the security of persons and property in places particularly exposed to the risk of aggression, theft or drug trafficking, as well as the prevention, in areas particularly exposed to these offences, of customs fraud as provided for in the second paragraph of Article 414 of the Customs Code and of offences as provided for in Article 415 of the same Code relating to funds derived from these same offences,
  • The prevention of acts of terrorism,
  • Prevention of natural or technological risks,
  • Rescue and firefighting,
  • Safety of public facilities in amusement parks".


Finally, video protection is the application to the public safety sector of remote image capture and exploitation systems (video surveillance). It therefore consists at least of a camera and a monitor allowing the visualization of the images captured by the camera. In practice, a video protection system consists of a set of image capture devices, a recording device and access to the recorded images for live or subsequent viewing of the images, thus allowing the establishment of elements of flagrante delicto and evidence.

Videoprotection and Urban Supervision Centres

Urban Supervision Centres (CSU) are centres authorised by a prefecture to view images taken by public cameras. They therefore only concern the field of video protection.

Video protection: which regulation?

The mayor is the public actor with the competence to protect local public order. In this capacity, he chairs the local security and crime prevention council, of which the prefect and the public prosecutor are ex officio members. Any municipality may create such a council or decide to participate in an inter-municipal council involving a public institution with expertise in prevention. This council is, where appropriate, the body responsible for drawing up, implementing and evaluating the local security contract. This is concluded according to the priorities adopted between the institutions or bodies involved in the prevention and fight against delinquency. It recalls the diagnosis on which the local council's strategy and objectives are based. To methodically bring together the efforts of all, it includes the most precise and concrete possible description of the actions that have been concerted and planned between those who are mobilizing, while respecting each other's skills, against insecurity and to help the victims. The establishment of an urban video protection system is one of these actions.

From an ethical point of view, video protection does not act on the causes of delinquency, but possibly on its effects, and only makes sense in the context of implementation under the aegis of the Local Security and Crime Prevention Council (CLSPD).

Video protection is not a substitute for local actions that act to strengthen social ties, it has control functions such as:

  • Control of living spaces,
  • The control of commercial zones which are spaces of sociability where flows of people pass through,
  • The control of transport routes that have a functional use.

According to article 252-1 of the Internal Security Code: "The installation of a videoprotection system under this title is subject to authorization by the State representative in the department and, in Paris, by the given police prefect, except in matters of national defence, after consulting the departmental videoprotection commission. Where the system includes cameras installed in the territory of several departments, authorisation shall be issued by the representative of the State in the department in which the applicant's registered office is located and, where that office is located in Paris, by the Prefect of Police, after consulting the departmental video protection commission. State representatives in the departments in which cameras are installed are informed.

Systems installed on public roads or in places open to the public whose records are used in automated processing or contained in files structured according to criteria allowing natural persons to be identified, directly or indirectly, are authorised under the conditions laid down by law n° 78-17 of 6 January 1978 on data processing, files and freedoms. »

In France, it is the Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) which is competent to control all recording devices, whether for the video protection or video surveillance regime.

On public roads, only public authorities (e. g. law enforcement agencies) are authorized to capture images. Individuals or private companies can only film the inside of their homes or premises, at least the external facades for companies.

Concerning video protection, public authorities' cameras must not allow the inside of buildings or dwellings to be seen: digital masking procedures are sometimes put in place to ensure this.

Similarly, only persons authorized under a prefectoral authorization may view images recorded by public cameras, and only as part of their duties (e.g. CSU agents).

Finally, the CNIL only authorizes the storage of images for a period of one month. They may not be extracted from the system and kept longer than in the event that they are useful in the context of verbal or criminal proceedings.

The challenges of video protection

How effective is video protection?

The effectiveness of video protection is a major debate in France and around the world.

However, its action is at least felt in the behaviour of citizens: up to 23% of the interventions allowed by video protection concern parking problems, and 7% of traffic violations. In Paris, the Direction de Prévention de la Sécurité et de la Protection (DPSP) issues remote tickets up to 1,000 times a day.

Secondly, while it is still difficult to prevent a deviant act through video protection, it can be useful for the work of investigators. For example, for the attacks in Nice in 2016 or London in 2018, video protection in these cities made it possible to trace the terrorist's journey.

The opportunities of video protection: automated processing and hypervision

A first major change is in the quality of the cameras: More and more, the cameras are controllable from the CSU, they can rotate 360° (for PTZ cameras), zoom up to 250m, and shoot in resolutions up to 8K.

However, it is mainly the image processing method that is being disrupted: thanks to analysis software and artificial intelligence (AI), video protection will increasingly allow real-time analysis of images taken by cameras.

In terms of use, video protection will make it possible to:

  • The implementation of predefined processes: in the event of the detection of suspicious acts (gathering, crowd movement, inappropriate driving, etc.), the system will automatically notify the CSU or the competent authorities, issue an alert message in the streets, close certain lanes, etc.


  • Hypervision of the city: warned by the cameras, the CSUs and authorities of each city will be able to control access to the city, monitor streets and transport where a suspicious act has been detected, coordinate live teams in the field, etc.


  • Resident participation: applications are being tested (e.g. in Nice), where residents selected by the authorities and the city hall can report acts that they would consider to be deviant directly via their smartphones. This information is then sent and analysed by the CSU.


  • Facial recognition: it would make it possible to quickly find a lost or wanted person, to identify an individual by their face rather than by a potentially forged identity document, etc. In France, the CNIL has already authorized facial recognition when boarding Eurostar at Gare du Nord, but also at Paris Charles-de-Gaulle (CDG) and Orly. However, for the time being, it is against the generalization of this system in places and on the public highway.


  • Video protection as the basic sensor of the Smart City : thanks to video analysis applications, the cameras used to protect urban space could also become the basic multifunctional sensor of the Smart City. Indeed, many uses of the city can be measured and analysed by cameras. Metering devices (pedestrians, cycles, cars) are already efficient and will save the installation of many monofunctional sensors (counting loop, weather station, etc.). Some actors are considering using images from video protection cameras to support their parking management policy: respect for reserved spaces or blue zones in particular.


Precautions for use around video protection

When a municipality is looking to equip or expand its video protection system, it must anticipate the safety and technical issues involved.

In 2013, the General Secretariat for Defence and National Security, and the National Agency for Information Systems Security (ANSSI), jointly published Security Recommendations for the implementation of video protection devices.

Risks of vulnerability

The implementation of video protection systems in cities can bring three categories of risks:

      • Breaches of confidentiality of video protection data: the town halls in charge of deploying these systems must ensure that video and audio streams cannot be intercepted,


      • The risk of unavailability of videoprotection: it is possible that physical or computer attacks may be carried out against the equipment (e.g. cameras, cables, servers, etc.), which would disable all or part of the videoprotection system,


      • The risk of external takeover: in the event of a computer attack, there could be a takeover of the video protection system or even potential related services (e.g. road signs).


Necessary isolation of infrastructure

In order to counter the risks of intrusion into a city's video protection system, it is essential that it be as isolated as possible. Several combined solutions can be implemented:

  • Favour wireline connectivity: wireless means of communication (e. g. Wi-Fi, mobile network, etc.) significantly increase exposure to computer attacks and can be subject to electromagnetic interference, including variations in weather conditions,


  • Physically isolate the video protection system: the routing and cabling equipment concerned must be exclusively dedicated to the video protection system, and not to the city's other security systems,


  • Computer isolation of the video protection system: the interfaces used must not, for example, be directly accessible via the Internet,


  • Isolate video protection equipment from each other: it is recommended to isolate as much as possible (physically and computer) video protection equipment according to its use (e.g. cameras filming public roads, sensitive areas, etc.). In addition, cameras should not be able to communicate directly with each other (e.g.  VLAN-type isolation machanisms),


  • Control and conceal access to the video protection system: the system access ports must not be visible and must be secured (e.g. with the 802.1X protocol).


External sources

Tactis - Directeur associé - Benjamin Fradelle- Aménagement numérique des territoires

Benjamin Fradelle

Associate Director
Since 2002, Benjamin Fradelle has been developing expertise in digital spatial planning, both in terms of defining the strategy of local authorities and in the technical and economic approaches associated with public initiative networks.

Contact Benjamin Fradelle

A question about the video protection ? Need to remove doubts in view of a future project? Send an email to Benjamin Fradelle, Tactis Associate Director.

Tactis - Directeur associé - Benjamin Fradelle- Aménagement numérique des territoires

Benjamin Fradelle

Associate Director Tactis
Since 2002, Benjamin Fradelle has been developing expertise in digital spatial planning, both in terms of defining the strategy of local authorities and in the technical and economic approaches associated with public initiative networks.
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