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French watchdog condemns police for unlawful use of drones to patrol lockdown

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French data privacy watchdog CNIL condemned the Interior Ministry for the unlawful use of drones to oversee demonstrations and make sure people were respecting the COVID-19 lockdown.

In a decision made public on Thursday, the authority stressed that the use of such tools by the police nationwide broke the law in the absence of any regulatory framework.

The CNIL started investigating the use of camera drones by law enforcement last May.

It found that the interior ministry had not at the time used mechanisms to blur the faces of people filmed by the drones in demonstrations or walking in the streets during lockdown.

This was a breach of French data privacy rules, the CNIL said, as the people could be easily identified in the images filmed and then stored by the police.

The interior ministry has since told the CNIL that blurring systems were put in place, but the authority said they could be turned off.

“This mechanism does not necessarily prevent the identification of individuals as long as the services of the ministry of the interior are able to deactivate blurring,” the authority said.

At no point has the public been properly informed about the use of camera drones by the police, the CNIL said, adding it had reminded the interior ministry it should obey the law.

This comes after another decision by the country’s top administrative court, which forbade the use of camera drones by the police in the absence of a proper legal framework.

A draft security law, which triggered fierce debates in France over press freedom, would substantially increase the legal use of surveillance tools, including drones.

The interior ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

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