Top French court bans drone surveillance in Paris for enforcing lockdown


France’s top court for administrative justice — Conseil d’État — banned the use of surveillance drones by the Paris police for tracking people in public areas who were flouting social distancing norms, citing privacy issues. Conseil d’État held that the use of drones by police will remain suspended until they are equipped with technology which makes it impossible to film people so that they can not be identified, or until the CNIL (Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés, France’s privacy regulator) allows such drone usage by a ministerial decree. Bloomberg first reported this.

The order came after France based advocacy organizations Human Rights League, and Quadrature du Net filed a lawsuit against such drone usage. “This decision is a major victory against drone surveillance. 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,” Quadrature du Net said in a statement. Both the organizations had initially approached Paris’s administrative court, but the court had rejected their prayer, according to Conseil d’État’s order.

France had been using drones since as early as March to track people violating social distancing norms, and the government, in a directive on May 14 (after the advocacy groups had filed the lawsuit), had said that drones were not used to identify people, but only to detect public gatherings to enforce the lockdown and disperse large gatherings of people. The state further said that the drones were flown at a height of 80 to 100 metres, and were not fitted with a memory card and thus could not capture and save images. The zoom function in the drone’s camera is also never activated, the state claimed.

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