In a letter to the Chair and members of the Law Committee of the French Senate, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, urges the senators to make substantial amendments to the General Security Bill to make it more human rights-compliant.
The Commissioner invites the senators to remove the ban, imposed by Article 24 of the bill, on disseminating images of the faces of law enforcement officers engaged in police operations, or any other means of identifying them, with the clear intent to do them physical or psychological harm. “This ban is an infringement of the right to freedom of expression, which includes the freedom to impart information, and is liable to exacerbate the breakdown of trust between a section of the population and some parts of the law enforcement agencies, which will not help to protect the latter”, says the Commissioner. She points out that the European Court of Human Rights has acknowledged the crucial role played by the media in informing the public about the management of public demonstrations by the authorities and considers that the infringement by Article 24 of the freedom to impart information is especially unjustified in view of the fact that law enforcement officers are already protected from such harm by many existing legal provisions.
The Commissioner also recommends measures to enhance the right to privacy. This implies placing stricter limits on the conditions listed in Articles 20 to 20ter of the bill regarding access to CCTV footage of public spaces and certain private spaces.
This also calls for a better definition of the legal framework for the use of body cameras. Commissioner Mijatović notes that the possibility introduced by the bill to use these cameras “to inform the public about the circumstances of operations” seems to be designed more to enable police officers and gendarmes to mount a public response to images broadcast by third parties than to increase transparency. “This does not seem to me to be a legitimate purpose justifying interference in the right to privacy of the persons being filmed”, writes the Commissioner. She also invites the Senate’s Law Committee to clarify what conditions and procedures apply to direct access to images by the persons who have recorded them so as to guarantee the proper integrity of recordings and ensure that the right to privacy is respected, including protection of the personal data of the persons on film.
The Commissioner recommends measures to enhance safeguards for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of persons subject to surveillance through airborne cameras or drones. She invites the Law Committee to define the grounds for resorting to such technology more strictly, to improve the means of informing persons targeted and to ensure that the rules on the recording, processing and storage of images are compatible with international standards on the protection of privacy, personal data and freedom of peaceful assembly. “The use of recorded images for identification purposes, including through facial recognition software, should be limited to circumstances in which criminal offences have clearly been committed or there is reasonable suspicion that a crime is about to take place”, says the Commissioner.
The Commissioner also considers that some clarification is called for regarding provisions changing the conditions of access to private security jobs, enhancing the powers and responsibilities of private security guards and granting some municipalities the right to experiment with enlarging the scope of activities of their municipal police. She invites the senators to make the legal framework proposed clearer and to eliminate any risk of discrimination, taking full account of the opinions expressed by national human rights structures in this respect.
“Forging closer ties between the law enforcement agencies and the public means improving the full and harmonious protection of each side’s rights. There is no doubt that the law enforcement agencies’ operations can be complex and are sometimes carried out in a context of violence. In this light, as stated in my Memorandum of February 2019 on maintaining public order and freedom of assembly in the context of the “yellow vest” movement, I consider it crucial where possible to avoid placing the law enforcement agencies in situations of extreme tension and to secure full respect for their members’ economic and social rights; this is both a duty we owe to them and an important means of reducing the risks of abuse and excessive use of force, which it is essential to combat”, concludes Commissioner Mijatović.