French government proposes new ban on filming and photographing police

On November 20, 2020, the French government presented a new security bill. Article 24 of the bill outlaws the dissemination of photos and videos that feature, "the image of the face or any other element of identification of an official of the national police or of a soldier of the national gendarmerie when acting within the framework of 'a police operation' and when this dissemination is made 'with the aim of harming his physical or mental integrity' "

Violation of this law is punishable by one year of imprisonment and a fine of up to 45,000 euros (about $53,000).

While this clearly limits the freedoms of citizens to observe the potential abuses of the authorities, Articles 21 and 22 of the bill also expand the surveillance powers of the police and state. I'll let the Civil Space Watch of the European Civic Forum explains this part:

The proposed Global Security Act also expands the possibility for the police to film citizens by using more walking cameras (Article 21) or " air operated " cameras and even drones (Article 22). We call on parliamentarians to delete or substantially amend these articles. Police officers will now have direct access to the recordings (Article 21), which they were previously prohibited from accessing. This could prove problematic in the event of investigations into illegal practices by law enforcement agencies. Admittedly, these cameras could deter some police officers from using force. But if they are given the choice to start or stop the recordings, there is a risk that they will be biased and selective. We recommend the utmost caution when law enforcement officers carry walking cameras: the risks to fundamental rights, in particular the right to privacy, the right to dignity of the persons being filmed and the right to demonstrate, must be taken into account.   

Moreover, with Article 22 extending the use of UAVs, the risk of being filmed may deter people from participating in peaceful gatherings, in particular, if they fear subsequent prosecution for the mere fact of having participated. This has already been the case in France. We have already documented situations where demonstrators gathered to defend the rights of carers, for example, have been fined after being identified by surveillance cameras. They were fined for taking part in a banned demonstration, even though this ban by the government was later found to be illegal because it was disproportionate. 

Basically: more drones for us, no cell phone footage for you.

Alice Thourot, an MP for the La République En Marche (LREM) party who co-authored the bill, insisted that it doesn't mean what you think it means. It "will not jeopardise in any way the rights of journalists or ordinary citizens to inform the public" and "outlaws any calls for violence or reprisals against police officers on social media," she told a French newspaper. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin promised that people, "can continue to film and broadcast but you cannot give names and addresses of our police officers who want to serve the republic."

The office of Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron did succumb a bit to the obvious public backlash that should have been expected, insisting that the text of the bill would be amended before becoming law, so as not to "prejudice the legitimate interest of the public to be informed."

Police state power in France has seen a renaissance in the last few years. From Open Democracy:

As the association La Quadrature du Net explains, the confrontational approach "aims above all to dissuade the population from taking part in demonstrations, whether by psychological exhaustion of the participants (practice of the trapping, blocking or filtering of the entries and exits of the march route, teargassing, body searches, abusive behavior) or by physical violence (LBD, grenades, charges)". This policy has given way in the last two years to a fully fledged state violence, which caused an estimated 6,000 persons injured, 318 severe head injuries sustained by protesters; the hands of five protesters torn off by explosive grenades; thirty five people blinded by being shot with "flashbang grenades", as well as three deaths.

In addition to clashes with demonstrators, in recent years the police have multiplied discriminatory, often violent, racial profiling, focused on the population of Arab or black origin; they were recently sent to break in, search and arrest four ten (ten!) year old children on charges of being apologists for terrorism, who were then released a few hours later; and, what is more, they have killed 42 people since 2019, including the delivery boy, Cédric Chouvat, killed in Paris by ventral tackling and strangulation following his "outrageous" attempt to … film his arrest.

This news comes on the heels of another security initiative by the Macron administration with the claimed intention of combatting Islamist threats by making life harder for the country's large Muslim population. That bill hopes to form a council of government-approved Imams that can create a "charter of republican values" (read: loyalty oath) for all French Muslims to sign, according to the BBC. Other elements of the bill include restrictions on home-schooling and, "giving children an identification number under the law that would be used to ensure they are attending school. Parents who break the law could face up to six months in jail as well as large fines."

In other words, this is Le Petit Patriot Act. Fun times in France!

French bill banning images of police sparks concern over media freedom, civil rights [Romain Brunet / France 24]

Macron follows a well-worn path of French presidents, by veering to the right [Saskya Vandoorne / CNN]

France's Macron asks Muslim leaders to back 'republican values' charter [BBC]

FRANCE: Draft law on "Global security" is dangerous for fundamental rights [Civic Space Watch]

France's 'global security' bill [Paola Pietrandrea / Open Democracy]

Macron prepares "global security" law banning the filming of French police [Anthony Torres and Alex Lantier / World Socialist Web Site]

Press freedom, civil liberties concerns over French security bill [Peter Yeung / Al Jazeera]

Image: Kristoffer Trolle / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)