In the Midst of the Test Society

Orange Labs (a.k.a. France Telecom R&D) is experimenting with electronic justice. A device called “Point Visio-Public”, which allows interacting with public administrations at-a-distance, is going to be tested in the field of legal procedures. Here’s the advertised purpose:

“Through this real-time interaction, based on human relation, administrative obligations are simplified and cumbersome physical displacements are avoided. The public service counselor manages all operations from a workstation. Point Visio-Public offers, at-a-distance, the comfort of direct contact with public administration thanks to the quality of image, though which agents are visible in real time and exchange “face-to-face” — a patented technology.” (from Press Release, France Telecom, December 3 2007)

Maître Eolas, a lawyer who blogs about this just here, expresses discomfort and finds this “human relation” rather surreal. But, as a good observer of law in the midst of the “test society”, he also observes that, of course, the experiment requires configuring France as a testing site first. Indeed:

“Rachida Dati, French Minister of Justice, and Didier Lombard, CEO of France Telecom, have signed today a convention of experimentation on the functionalities and the uses of a Point Visio-Public service devoted to judicial procedures. This convention is part of the modernization program put forward by Rachida Dati, which considers in particular the computerization of all jurisdictions in January 2008.” (from Press Release, France Telecom, December 3 2007)

Dati is in a rush to “reform the judicial map”, which means to close about 200 courts in France: a reform perceived as not quite insightful by professionals (see “Rachida Dati affronte un mécontentement croissant sur la carte judiciaire”, Le Monde, November 11 2007). But she just called this Point Visio-Public thing an “experiment”. As everybody knows, experiments are there to provoke reaction and monitor informed feedback — such as Maître Eolas’, whose post and subsequent comments should therefore be considered as a legitimate experimental outcome.


  1. Manuel Torres

    Reducing the administrative burdens by a 25% by 2012 is one of the Lisbon targets for the EU countries; administrative burdens as it is said undermine the productivity of companies – and by extension ‘citizens’ – by deviating resources that could otherwise be spent on alternative usages, i.e. innovation. Notwithstanding, as the EU itself points out, the main burden for companies is usually the information requirement imposed by all sorts of laws; most of those requirements aim to guaranteeing transparency and controlling private activity which, therefore difficult to eliminate. That may be the reason why Governments turn to channel improvement initiatives instead of tackling the underlying issue: to which extend the information they required and its use is managed in an efficient manner. A mess executed through a sophisticated technological device is still a mess.

  2. Manuel,

    The underlying rationale for that particular device is probably the following: getting rid of the “mess” in public administrations equals getting rid of public administrations altogether.

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