France Bans Police Camera Drones Used to Enforce Lockdown

France’s top privacy watchdog has told police to stop using drone-mounted cameras to enforce virus lockdowns, monitor protests, stake out drug deals and chase carjackers.

The regulator CNIL looked at how law enforcement was using the drones to check if people were obeying lockdown rules and tested how it collected data including people’s identities.

“The Interior Ministry carried out drone flights equipped with cameras outside of any legal framework,” the CNIL concluded in a statement.

France Bans Police Camera Drones Used to Enforce Lockdown

The ban is a victory for privacy activists who’ve been pushing back against the use of new technology to monitor the behavior of citizens and employees since the start of the pandemic.

Drones are also used increasingly by police forces to hunt for criminals over wide areas, monitor crime scenes and crowds or search for missing people.

French activist group La Quadrature du Net filed lawsuits against the Paris police in April last year. The country’s highest court found in their favor in May, and in a follow-up ruling last month, but the activists said the interior ministry carried on using the drones.

In unusually blunt language, the CNIL said Thursday’s ruling meant the government could no longer ignore the rules and summoned ministry officials with a view to imposing unspecified sanctions. It called on the government to stop all camera-drone flights until there’s a framework in place to authorize the processing of personal data, or until a way is found to stop the systems identifying individuals.

The CNIL told Bloomberg it was enforcing a 2016 European Union directive governing how police and judicial authorities can collect and use such data.

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