Why the debates on drone supervision are expected to be tense in the Assembly

Demonstrators gathered in Rennes on Tuesday, November 17 to protest against the proposed law on comprehensive security. – Mathieu Pattier / SIPA

  • A sling, led by unions of journalists and associations for the defense of freedoms, protested against one of the flagship measures of the proposed law on “global security”, which aims to punish the dissemination of videos of police officers if they affect their physical integrity.
  • But this measure is not the only one to arouse fears among observers and reservations among some elected officials, including the majority.
  • Article 22, which proposes to establish a legal framework to develop the use of drones by the police and the gendarmerie, is also the subject of strong criticism.

A gull chasing a drone. The drawing can make you smile but it symbolizes the fight of the association for the defense of digital freedoms La Quadrature du Net (QDN). To the point of appearing now
on one of the posters organisation. Mobilized for months against the illegal use of these small aircraft by the Paris Police Prefecture, the QDN is now scrapping, with other organizations, against a bill debated from Tuesday evening in the National Assembly.

Already sharply criticized by journalists’ unions and various independent bodies (in particular the Defender of Rights and the UN Human Rights Council) for a measure aimed at punishing the malicious dissemination of images of police officers on the networks social, the text feeds other concerns.
Section 22, which clarifies the legal framework for the use of drones equipped with cameras by the police and the gendarmerie while broadening the cases in which they can be used, also raises fears. Why ? 20 Minutes make the point.

Breakthrough “

What do the elected representatives of the majority at the origin of this proposed law on global security plan? Alice Thourot, one of the two LREM deputies responsible for drafting the text, explains: “The bill sets a legal framework and specifies who can use” airborne cameras “and in what situation. This list is limited and concerns, for example, the prevention of acts of terrorism, assistance to people – in particular at sea and in the mountains -, coastal surveillance to fight against illegal degassing, or the prosecution of offenders. “

A “real advance”, she believes, which however excludes any use of “airborne cameras” inside the homes of individuals and provides for the need to inform the public when the police – police or gendarmerie – use these drones. Finally, “if there is no open investigation, the records are kept for 30 days”, specifies the elected official. A government amendment, which will be studied this week in the Chamber, proposes to extend this use of drones to municipal police. In addition, this article was one of the few to be submitted to the Council of State for an opinion.

Or an infringement of rights?

Debated in the Laws Committee last week with the rest of the text, this article 22 caused some stir. For LFI deputy Danièle Obono, the effectiveness of “these Orwellian tools” has still not been proven and the current wording of the text would lead to “mass surveillance” and “generalization” of drones. Another feared drift, that of an obstacle to the right to demonstrate. “The use of drones by the police can act as a deterrent for citizens. Knowing that they are being filmed, some could give up their right to demonstrate, ”warns Paul Cassia, professor of public law at the University of Paris I – Panthéon-Sorbonne.

On this point, the UN Human Rights Council has expressed its reservations reports the newspaper The world : “We express serious concerns that the use of drones with cameras, as a particularly intrusive method, is likely to have a deterrent effect on individuals who are in public space and who wish to participate in peaceful assemblies. . “

To this is added a risk of “invasion of privacy” believes Arthur Messaud, lawyer at La Quadrature du Net. “The use of the drone – so far prohibited – during demonstrations is part of a logic of escalation of violence in the maintenance of order in France. The drone is particularly useful for filtering, nassing or exhausting protesters. To this is added a risk of invasion of privacy if the goal is to identify, thanks to these drones, the demonstrators considered to be troublemakers, ”he explains.

And the association is not the only one to worry since the Defender of Rights, Claire Hédon, expressed the same fears in an opinion issued on November 3 on the text. “The use of drones could allow the identification of multiple individuals and the massive and indiscriminate collection of personal data. If the text provides for the protection of the interior of the home, the Defender of Rights considers that it does not in any case contain sufficient guarantees to preserve privacy, ”she wrote.

A moral hazard

The debates promise to be bitter in the hemicycle. More than 1,300 amendments were tabled, heralding particularly long sessions. Especially since within the majority, voices were raised against this article in the drafting considered too “vague”. If the Modem deputy Philippe Latombe recognizes the usefulness of drones for the coasts or when violence breaks out during demonstrations, he pleads for a stricter limitation of their use.

The choice made by the two rapporteurs of the text and by the government not to exclude the use of facial recognition software for drones particularly worries him. “In the current text, nothing excludes it. However the CNIL asks the legislator to take a position. And we know that there is a very strong political will locally to use facial recognition. Why was the ban on the processing of images of these drones by this software not written in the text? He wonders.

Finally, there is the “moral” question behind this generalization of drones by the police. For the professor of law, Paul Cassia, the risk of habituation of the company with regard to the surveillance by drones exists: “The effect of gear of the security measures is verified. There is always a good pretext. Once you use drones for protests, why not extend it to road traffic surveillance? And why not for all the public highway? “.

An analysis shared by the deputy Philippe Latombe who concludes: “Do we want to move towards a surveillance society like the one we can see in the film? Minority Report ? Or do we set a limit before we get there? I know that my concerns are shared by other Members, but the current situation, with the terrorist threat looming and the feeling of insecurity, makes it easier to accept this type of measure. “



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