Court rules that Paris police cannot use drones to enforce lockdown

France's highest administrative court ruled on Monday that Paris authorities could no longer use aerial drones to track people flouting social-distancing rules in the coronavirus fight, handing a victory to rights groups who warned of a threat to personal privacy.

Court rules that Paris police cannot use drones to enforce lockdown
Photo: AFP

The devices have been deployed in dozens of cities around the world to ensure lockdowns to contain the outbreak are being respected, raising worries that officials were gaining unprecedented surveillance powers during the crisis.

Two French plaintiffs, the Human Rights League and the digital advocacy group Quadrature du Net, filed a case against the Paris drone flights with the State Council this month.

Citing a Senate report, they said police had carried out 251 surveillance flights nationwide between March 24th and April 24th, during France's strict lockdown.

Police patrols were out in Paris this weekend dispersing large groups. Photo: AFP

Paris police and interior ministry officials said they were not trying to identify people but only watch for any illicit gatherings so they would know where to send patrols.

But in its ruling, the State Council said that since the drones' cameras could let police identify individuals on the ground, “there are risks they could be used contrary to personal data protection rules.”

In order to use them, the government would need to issue a decree setting out conditions of their use and secure approval from the national CNIL data privacy watchdog, the council said.

Alternatively, authorities would have to equip the drones with technology that makes it impossible to identify people being filmed.

The ruling could lead to challenges against drone use in Marseille, Nice and other French cities as the country begins to lift its coronavirus lockdowns.

“There's no reason to believe this decision should not be applied across all French territory,” Patrice Spinosi, a lawyer for the Human Rights League, told AFP.

Member comments

  1. Drones? That’s nothing…. on the last national holiday, here in la Vienne, the gendarmes used their helicopter to check if there were any illicit barbecues going on…they circled our village twice….!

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‘Serious malfunctions’ at French research unit headed by Didier Raoult

A criminal investigation is set to begin into the Marseille research unit headed by controversial scientist Didier Raoult, after a report found "serious malfunctions".

'Serious malfunctions' at French research unit headed by Didier Raoult

The findings of the joint investigation into the IHU at Marseille by the Inspection générale des affaires sociales (IGAS) and the  l’Inspection générale de l’éducation, du sport et de la recherche (IGESR) prompted Health Minister François Braun and Research Minister Sylvie Retailleau to refer the unit to the city’s public prosecutor, urging it to investigate “serious malfunctions” at the institution.

Raoult was head of the unit from its foundation in 2011 until his retirement this summer.

The controversial microbiologist gained significant worldwide attention during the Covid-19 pandemic for his vociferous promotion of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment, despite a lack of evidence on its effectiveness.

READ ALSO Five minutes to understand: Whatever happened to French professor Didier Raoult?

He was succeeded as director by Pierre-Edouard Fournier.

The ministers said that a number of issues highlighted in the latest report are “likely to constitute offences or serious breaches of health or research regulations”.

Fournier, and the institute’s seven founding members – including the University of Aix-Marseille, Assistance Publique-Hospitals de Marseille, the Research Institute for Development or the army health service – will now be summoned by their supervisory bodies to “implement a proactive action plan as soon as possible” which “will condition the continuation of the activity of the IHU-MI and its funding by the State”, according to the joint communiqué of the ministers.

The IHU was already under judicial investigation for “forgery in writing”, “use of forgery in writing”, and “interventional research involving a human person not justified by his usual care without obtaining the opinion of the committee for the protection of persons and the authorisation of the Agence nationale de sécurité du médicament et des produits de santé (ANSM),” the Marseille prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday.

In an earlier report, the ANSM had noted “serious breaches of the regulations for research involving humans”, during some clinical trials.

READ ALSO Maverick French Covid doctor reprimanded over ‘breaches’ in clinical trials

François Crémieux, the director of Marseille public hospitals, told local newspaper La Provence on Tuesday that the establishment “shares the observation of managerial excesses of certain hospital-university managers occupying key functions within the infectious diseases division”.

“The legitimacy of the IHU has been affected. It has lost its scientific credibility. It must now be regained. 800 highly skilled professionals work there every day,” he added.

Raoult bit back at the report in a tweet, saying: “I regret that the IGAS/IGAENR mission does not take into account the detailed legal and scientific response that I have provided”.

Separately, Raoult will be in court on Friday as his defamation case against Karine Lacombe, Professor of Infectious Diseases at Sorbonne University Faculty of Medicine, comes before judges.