Drones and surveillance cameras: France’s new security bill explained

France's new security bill has already caused controversy for its proposed restrictions in images of police officers - but what else is in the law?

Drones and surveillance cameras: France's new security bill explained
Illustration photo: AFP

So far most coverage of the loi relative à la sécurité globale has focused on article 24, which prompted widespread protests across France.

FULL BACKGROUND: France debates bill to restrict photos and videos that identify police officers

But this is only one part of the bill. Here's a look at the rest of it. 

In its entirety the bill is a long read of 32 articles that touch upon a broad range of issues – from road security to drones to how municipal police are organised. 

  • Chapter 1 (articles 1-6) concerns municipal police. It seeks to, in the bill’s own words, improve coordination between national and municipal police, and to give local officers extended powers on some issues. The bill opens for the creation of a municipal police in Paris.
  • Chapter 2 (articles 7-19) addresses issues of security in the private sector, notably giving private security agents extended powers.
  • Chapter 3 (articles 20-22) is called “videoprotection and taking of images” and addresses the use of drones and security cameras.
  • Chapter 4 (articles 24-27), “issues regarding interior security”, is the one containing the controversial article regarding rules on publishing images of police officers, which now will be amended.
  • Chapter 5 (articles 28-29) concerns road security and gives police more powers to enforce alcohol checks.
  • Chapter 6, 7 and 8 have just one article each: article 30 is called “diverse”, article 31 “overseas territories” and article 32  (“compensation by the state”) concerns a new tax that would be installed to fund the changes in the bill. None of these have caused particular outrage.

So which of these points are controversial?

1. Drones – Article 22

Drone use is currently very tightly regulated in France and one of the most contested points in the bill is that it would loosen up the rules regulating use of drones by law enforcement.

The bill does not employ the term drones but rather caméras aéroportées (airborne cameras).

Danielle Obono, MP of leftwing party France Unbowed (La France Insoumise) called drones an “Orwellian tool” and said the bill would open for “mass surveillance” during the parliamentary hearings this week.

She was referring to article 22 of the bill, which opens up for using drones when “the circumstances give rise to fear of serious disturbances to public order”.

Proponents say the law is restrictive and its legal framework constructed so that drones will only be used in necessary cases such as to prevent acts of terrorism or to help rescue people who are lost in the mountains or at sea.

But France's Défenseure des Droits (Human Right's Defender) said the law would allow for an “intrusive” use of drones, notably during protests.

This was echoed by the United Nations' Human Rights Council, which expressed “serious concern over the usage of drones with cameras, as a particularly intrusive method, is likely to have a deterrent effect on individuals in public space who wish to participate in peaceful assemblies.

3. Surveillance cameras – Article 21

Article 21 gives police extended access to surveillance footage by allowing them direct access to security camera images in situations where police officers, goods or individuals are threatened. Currently police do not have direct access to such footage and in general there is a lot less CCTV surveillance in France than in many other countries.

Article 21 also provides for that police may use images captured by their own security cameras “to inform the public”.

Currently, such images may only be used internally as a teaching tool.

Interior minister Darmanin has defended this extension as a necessary means to prevent “one-sided accounts” of police interventions.

“Why should the law enforcement be the only ones not able to release images to the public?” a Darmanin aide told 20 minutes, referring to cases where videos depicting police violence is uploaded online without a “full account” of the incident.

But Claire Hédon, France's Human Right's Defender, said in a statement that allowing for such sharing of information “would be contrary to our European commitments as well as to our constitutional obligations,” because the images in question were of a nature that would allow for the person to be identified.

Amnesty has also said this would interfere with individuals' rights to privacy.

“What are they going to do? Broadcast images from these pedestrian cameras? This does not allow for a respect of privacy,” Anne-Sophie Simpere, from Amnesty International France, told Reporterre.



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Reader question: Do French police have the right to see my ID?

French police have some quite surprisingly wide-ranging powers that apply to everyone in France, whether resident or visitor.

Reader question: Do French police have the right to see my ID?

The Local subscribers in France are no doubt, responsible and law-abiding people – but, even so, it is very possible that they will find themselves in situations that involve contact with the police.

One reason for police to stop an ordinary civilian is for a contrôle d’identité (identity check). This is when a police officer stops to check your identity. 

This can only happen under certain conditions: 

  • the officer suspects you have committed or will commit a crime; 
  • you are in a ‘dangerous’ location where crime is known to occur; 
  • the public prosecutor has ordered a particular area to be watched; 
  • or you are operating a motorised vehicle (a contrôle routière).

If you’re driving, officers have the power to pull you over for an identity check – even if you were driving safely and within the speed limit – and a search of the vehicle and/or luggage may be carried out.

If you refuse to provide proof of identity, the police can find you guilty of refusing to obey or find you guilty of contempt and rebellion. Really.

READ ALSO ‘Don’t mess with French cops’ – Top tips for dealing with police in France

If you are not carrying any document that could prove your identity, the officer can take you to a police station to check your identity there. If this happens, the verification process must not last longer than four hours from the first request for ID – in Mayotte, this period is eight hours.

If you maintain your refusal to be identified, or if there is no other means of establishing your identity, the public prosecutor or the investigating judge may authorise the taking of fingerprints and photos.

Refusing to submit to fingerprinting or having a photograph taken is punishable by a fine of up to €3,750 and three months in prison.

Activists and NGOs argue that police practice racial profiling when they perform ID checks and it’s true that these ‘random’ checks seem to happen more frequently to people of colour.  

READ ALSO What to do if you are arrested in France

Non-French citizens who are resident in France may also have to prove their right to residency – a passport or residence permit is acceptable as, importantly, is the confirmation of anyone with you who is either a French citizen or legally resident in France.

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: What are your legal rights as a foreigner in France?

In France, it is strongly recommended that you carry some form of ID at all times, just in case you are stopped by officials. In fact, no text obliges you to have an identity card but if you are subject to an identity check, the procedure will take longer if you cannot present an appropriate document.

French citizens have ID cards, but if you’re not French then a passport or residency card such as a carte de séjour are the most usual ways to prove ID. 

Equally, you may be required to prove your identity for any number of administrative reasons – which makes it easier to have some form of ID with you.

These include, for example, the following situations:

  • Examination or competition;
  • Registration at Pôle Emploi;
  • Registering on electoral rolls and voting in elections;
  • Certain banking operations (payment by cheque, withdrawal at the counter of your bank);
  • Picking up a parcel from the post office
  • A trip abroad