France’s Supreme Administrative Court has backed data protection campaigners by banning the use of police drones to monitor public demonstrations in Paris. According to the Council of State, Paris Police Prefect Didier Lallement “should be stopped immediately” drone supervision of gatherings on public roads.
The move came at a time when there is a protracted parliamentary debate in the country over a security bill that includes the police use of drones and regulates, among other things, how police films or photographs made in this way can be shared by private individuals. Freedom of expression is violated. The data protection rights group of the La Quadrature du Net (LQDN) argued that the main measures in the bill violate freedom of expression and that drones equipped with cameras are incapable of maintaining peace instead of pursuing individuals. The Council of State decided that “there were serious doubts about the legality of the drones” in the absence of prior authorization to determine their use. According to the LQDN, the only way for the government to legalize drone surveillance would have been to provide evidence that it was absolutely necessary to maintain law and order, but this was “impossible”.
The decision is already the second hurdle the drone plans of the Paris authorities pose. In May, the same court ruled that drones could not be used in the capital to track down people who violated France’s strict quarantine rules. Under Article 22 of the Security Bill, which is currently passing through Parliament, security forces could send images taken by drone or helicopter to commanders and retain those images for at least 30 days as part of a possible police investigation. Fierce protests from the population erupted after the bill passed the first draft of Parliament. The greatest popular anger plunged into Article 24, which criminalizes footage of “physical or psychological” atrocities by police officers on duty. It was recently that a French African music producer, Michel Zecler, was kicked and hit on the ground by three police officers in Paris. Campaign participants say the new bill would prevent people from exposing this kind of police brutality.
President Emmanuel Macron said the police brutality exposed was unacceptable and his ruling party had promised to rewrite Article 24. However, another development is that judges on Tuesday ordered Zecler to release police officers detained for the attack – subject to certain conditions.