Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, French police has been using drones to watch people and make sure they respect the lockdown. Drones had been used before by the police for the surveillance of protests, but the COVID-19 crisis represented a change of scale: all over France, hundred of drones have been used to broadcast an audio about sanitary instructions, but also to monitor and capture images of people in the street that may or may not respect the lockdown rules.
On May 4, EDRi observer La Quadrature Du Net (LQDN) and their ally La Ligue des Droits de l’Homme used some information published by the newspaper Mediapart to file a lawsuit against the Parisian police and force them to stop using drones for surveillance activity. They based their appeal in particular on the absence of any legal framework concerning the use of images captured by these drones.
On 18 May 2020, the Conseil d’État, the French highest administrative court, issued its decision on the case. It sets as illegal any drone equipped with camera and flying low enough, as such a drone would allow the police to detect individuals by their clothing or a distinctive sign. This decision is a major victory against drone surveillance.
Indeed, according to the Conseil d’État, only a ministerial decree reviewed by the CNIL (National Commission on Informatics and Liberty) could allow the police to use such drones. As long as such a decree has not been issued, the French police will not be able to use its drones anymore. Indeed, the decision is all about the COVID-19 health crisis, a much more important purpose than those usually pursued by the police to deploy drones.
This action was part of the Technopolice campaign, developed by La Quadrature Du Net. Other devices are still being used without a legal framework: automated CCTV, sound sensors, predictive police… With Technopolice, LQDN aims at collectively highlighting and combating the deployment of new police technologies without the necessary legal safeguards. This decision proves they are on the right track.
La Quadrature Du Net and La Ligue des Droits de l’Homme public letter (18.05.20)
French Covid-19 Drones Grounded After Privacy Complaint (18.05.2020)
Why COVID-19 is a Crisis for Digital Rights (29.04.20)
Strategic litigation against civil rights violations in police laws (24.04.19)
Data retention: “National security” is not a blank cheque (29.01.20)
(Contribution by Martin Drago, La Quadrature Du Net)