French argue over aerial robot surveillance

Flying drones would monitor people in Paris, subway-connected suburbs and demonstrations.

Not everyone in the French government wants to use flying robotic surveillance drones next year as part of a plan to triple police surveillance efforts.

ELSA (a French acronym for "light device for aerial surveillance") is a 4-foot aerial robot that would be used to watch people in Paris and towns connected to Paris by the Metro subway system.

The device was demonstrated at Milipol, an exhibition of police security technology, which took place last week in Paris.

ELSA drones are slated to be part of an effort to triple the number of video surveillance devices by 2009, Michèle Alliot-Marie, France's minister of the Interior, told the Le Monde newspaper. Some could be used in conjunction with the Paris Metro subway security system, while the rest could be monitored by individual police stations for general security and to watch over demonstrations.

Mostly made of foam and weighing no more than a water bottle, ELSA poses little physical threat to people in the event of a crash. But equipped with night vision capabilities as well as daytime surveillance cameras, it's seen by some as a threat to personal freedom.

Some French politicians voiced protests after learning that the device had already been tested in several towns without their knowledge, according to Le Monde.

France should not be treated like a hostage-taking or civil war-torn country, Daniel Goldberg, a member of the French National Assembly (France's lower house of Parliament), told Le Monde.

"Faced with the legitimate and pressing expectations of citizens, we might be tempted to pay for additional security with a sacrifice in terms of freedom. This much is clear: this will never be the choice of France--and it will never be mine," he said.

About the author

In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet,, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.


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