France’s top administrative court has ruled that police must immediately cease the use of drones to monitor public gatherings in the French capital.
The Council of State ruled on Tuesday that there is "serious doubt over the legality" of drones without a prior text authorising and setting out their use by police force. The court also warned the government over a possible infringement to the freedom to demonstrate.
This is the second time that Paris police chief, Didier Lallement, has had to face setbacks over the use of drones. In May, the same court ruled that drones could not be used in the capital to track people in breach of France's strict lockdown rules.
A French advocacy group promoting digital rights, La Quadrature du Net – which filed the complaint – welcomed the court’s decision and called it a “total victory against the government”.
The move comes while parliament debates a contentious security bill that includes police use of drones.
The bill has been adopted by the French National Assembly in November and is now waiting to be examined by the Senate in January.
It allows for the use of drones during demonstrations which are likely to pose serious threats to law and order.
This bill has been severely criticised by privacy rights groups.
La Quadrature du Net contended that the bill's main measures violate freedom of expression and that drones equipped with cameras cannot keep the peace but track individuals instead.
The court also ordered the government to pay a sum of 3,000 euros to La Quadrature du Net which had filed a complaint against the Paris police’s continuous infringement of privacy by flying the drones.
In its ruling on Tuesday, the Council of State said that the interior ministry did not provide evidence that it would not be able to guarantee public safety during gatherings on public roads without the use of drone.
The interior ministry said article 22 of its global security bill would provide the required “legal framework which is missing today”.
But, according to the group, La Quadrature du Net, the recent decision of the court “fundamentally questions and condemns” the use of drones as described in article 22 of the security bill.
“The court’s ruling is a double slap in the face of the government. Not only is the use of drones banned but the government has lost any legal ground to include them in the bill, unless they can prove they are a vital necessity to maintain law and order.