The Council of State ordered the Parisian police headquarters to “immediately stop carrying out surveillance measures by drone”. This practice ran counter to several points of law.

After being contacted by the association La Quadrature du Net and by the The League of Human Rights, the Council of State has ordered the Paris police headquarters to stop all surveillance measures by drone during the deconfinement period. The prefecture of police has been using these devices since mid-March to ensure compliance with the confinement rules. Equipped with cameras and speakers, they could warn of certain gatherings of people and broadcast audio messages. The Council of State does not question, as such, the use of drones by the police, but considers that certain points are problematic from a legal point of view. The True False cell explains why.

Because it goes against the right to privacy

The drone cameras used by the police headquarters are equipped with optical zoom. They can therefore zoom in on faces, license plates or any other data used to identify a person. Although the prefecture of police explains not to use it to have a “general physiognomy of the monitored area “, nothing prevents the activation of this zoom.

The images taken by the drone are also viewed simultaneously by a team on site and by staff located at the information and command center of the police headquarters. Even if real-time viewing is an obstacle to identifying people, the possibility of drones to use their zoom or to fly lower than the planned distance makes it possible to invade the right to privacy. In short, it is the absence of restrictive technical devices which is pointed out by the Council of State. Even if all the capabilities of drones are not mobilized, the devices are likely to harm individuals.

Because it goes against the right to the protection of personal data

Even within the right to privacy, the Paris police headquarters raises questions about the collection of personal data and their protection. During the investigation, the prefecture explained that the drones were not equipped with a memory card, to ensure that there is no recording or preservation of images.

Nevertheless, the Council of State takes into account the risks “of a use contrary to the rules of protection of personal data”Present in the law of January 6, 1978 relating to data processing, files and freedoms. Once again, the highest administrative court indicates that drones are not equipped with any technical device making it possible to ensure the absence of any conservation of images, and therefore respect for the law. Devices are still capable of collecting identifying data thanks to the technology at their disposal.

Because there is a need for “the prior intervention of a regulatory text”

The Council of State also bases its decision on article 31 of the law of January 6, 1978. It imposes “an authorization by decree of the competent minister or ministers or by decree taken after reasoned and published opinion of the National Commission for Data Protection (Cnil) “, for the processing of personal data for the prevention and detection of criminal offenses. The absence of a regulatory text to regulate the use of drones and guarantee the protection of personal data is a “serious and manifestly unlawful interference with the right to respect for private life”According to the administrative jurisdiction.

The CNIL (the National Commission for Information Technology and Liberties) reacted to the order of the Council of State as soon as it was published. She said in a statement questioning the situation for several weeks already. Controls targeting the national police and the gendarmerie are underway “to the Interior Ministry regarding the use of drones in several cities “. Requests for information started on April 23 and are “under investigation, awaiting in particular response from the Ministry of the Interior “.


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