France: New security law risks dystopian surveillance state

 France: New security law risks dystopian surveillance state

  • Senate debate of crucial surveillance law begins today

French senators who will begin debating a new security law today must recognize that this harmful bill, if passed, would establish mass surveillance, including via drones, and seriously violate rights to privacy, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, Amnesty International said.

This draconian new law would bring to life a dystopian future that we never want to see. It would allow police to spy on anyone, almost everywhere, with a drone. This kind of surveillance is an enormous and unacceptable intrusion into people’s lives.
Marco Perolini Western Europe Researcher at Amnesty International

“If passed, this law would also make it illegal for people to disseminate images of law enforcement officials for vague reasons, such as when images are deemed to threaten the ‘psychological integrity’ of police officers. It is vital that journalists and others are able to film police to ensure that they are held accountable for their actions.”

Amnesty International is concerned that this law threatens the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to receive and impart information.

In the past, video evidence of excessive use of force by police has been crucial to launch proceedings against police officers. For example, Michel Zecler, a Black music producer, suffered from unlawful use of force by police officers, which was caught on camera, allowing proceedings to be opened against the officers concerned.

It is also extremely worrying that members of parliament have refrained from explicitly excluding the processing of images by facial recognition software. The massive use of surveillance cameras coupled with facial recognition would plunge France into a mass surveillance system. Amnesty International calls on banning the use of facial recognition systems, a form of mass surveillance that amplifies racist policing and threatens the right to protest. Ethnic minorities are most at risk of being misidentified by facial recognition systems. 

BACKGROUND

On 24 November, the National Assembly passed the so-called "global security" bill.

The Senate debate on the law starts on 3 March.

Article 21 extends the possibility for the police to film people by using more "pedestrian" cameras. Article 22 foresees the use of drones in many instances and with few exceptions (such as the interior of houses) with the possibility for police to access images instantly. In the context of COVID-19, Amnesty International has documented instances in which police unjustly fined protesters by using CCTV images.

Article 24 of the bill provides for penalties of up to one year's imprisonment and a fine of 45,000 euros for broadcasting videos in which police officers or gendarmes are identifiable where dissemination of the images has the aim of “threatening physical or psychological integrity".  On 1 March, the Senate rapporteurs, who are in charge of proposing amendments to the text that the National Assembly had voted in November, proposed to redraft this article and to criminalize incitement to identify law enforcement officials, with a view to threatening their physical or psychological integrity, regardless of whether an image is disseminated. This proposal is equally problematic as based on vague notions that could be used to disproportionately restrict freedom of expression.

In 2019, the European Court of Justice ruled that the exceptions to privacy protection used by journalists applies also to private individuals disseminating images of police.