France’s highest court has banned police from using drones to watch the public in Paris and rest of country during ease of lockdown rules
FRENCH police have been banned from using drones to keep an eye on the public during the coronavirus pandemic. The ban will apply until there is a proper legal basis for their deployment or until they have been adapted so that individuals being filmed cannot be identified, the country’s highest court, the Conseil d’Etat, has decided.
France’s Human Rights League announced the news on Monday May 18 saying it was a “real victory.” It took the case to the Conseil after its attempt to have the use banned was rejected by a lower court.
Some 20 drones have been used by the police in Paris over recent weeks under the control of the Prefecture of Police whose head, the Prefect Didier Lallement is a controversial law and order disciplinarian. He has already had to formally apologise for having said that those in hospital resuscitation wards during the health crisis were people who had disobeyed the rules of the lockdown.
Patrice Spinosi, the lawyer for the League, explained that though the decision technically applied only to Paris, it was enforceable across the whole of France.
Drones have increasingly been used by the French police. Rooftop and other camera surveillance of demonstrations in the past have been put aside as the small drones are able to follow the movement of a demonstration, check on small groups and zoom in to identify individuals.
However, surveying compliance with the rules of the lockdown is different as this does not involve the criminal law, rather administrative rules concerning good health practice. There has already been considerable concern in human rights circles that the lines between these two have been dangerously blurred, particularly when it has come to police practice in the poor suburbs of the capital where France’s ethnic minorities are concentrated.
In the middle of April, the French authorities began to discuss the use of a mobile phone app, StopCovid, to trace contacts of those who were infected with SARS-Cov-2. This ran into opposition in view of the dangers that the system might be used to collect data on the private lives of members of the public. Having at first refused to accept the idea, the government then conceded that a vote in parliament would be needed before any such app is introduced, if at all, later in June.