France Passes Controversial Law to Protect Police
Last week the French National Assembly approved what it describes as the global security law designed to aid and protect French police forces. The legislation includes two especially controversial measures that, when first proposed last fall, sparked significant public protest and condemnation from civil liberties organizations.
First, the law specifically criminalizes publicly identifying police officers with the obvious intent to physically or psychologically harm them. Offenders will face a €75,000 fine and up to five years in prison.
The original proposal called for amending the law codifying the freedom of the press, originally enacted in 1881. According to a report from The Washington Post, the law would ban “disseminating by any means or medium whatsoever . . . the image of the face or any other identifying element of an officer . . . when engaged in a police operation.” After strong condemnation and protests, legislators amended the law to remove mention of the word “image” and to amend a separate area of French law that is connected to the freedom of the press.
Critics of the law say the new language is little better than the original version. “This law would also make it illegal for people to disseminate images of law enforcement officials for vague reasons, such as when images are deemed to threaten the ‘psychological integrity’ of police officers,” reports Amnesty International. “It is vital that journalists and others are able to film police to ensure that they are held accountable for their actions.”
The other section of the law receiving widespread attention is the part that expands the ways police may use surveillance technology. According to Just Security, an online forum based at the Reiss Center on Law and Security at New York University School of Law, the global security law justifies the use of drones “to prevent personal injury or property damage in places particularly exposed to risks of attack, to prevent terrorist attacks, to record an infringement and allow their perpetrators to be pursued thanks to the evidence collection” or “to protect public facilities, regulate transport stream, to monitor coastlines, help people or anticipate natural or technological risks.”
The United Nations Human Rights Council condemned the law, saying “among many other provisions in the bill that could limit human rights, Article 22 permitting use of drone surveillance in the name of security and counter-terrorism would permit widespread surveillance, in particular of demonstrators. This has serious implications for the right to privacy, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in the country—as well as in any other country that might be inspired by this legislation.”
Proponents of the law say the increasing frequency of violence during civil unrest and protests has put police in danger, and the new law is needed to protect police as they work to ensure the safety and security of the public. The law was originally proposed after an attack on a police station in a Paris suburb and an incident in which two police officers were shot. These and other incidents are cited by French President Emmanuel Macron’s La Republique En Marche party, as well as other supporters including police unions, as evidence that the law is necessary.
Having passed both houses of the French legislature, the law would be enacted within 15 days. However The New York Times reports that the law will be referred to France’s Constitutional Council, “which reviews legislation to ensure it complies with the French Constitution and could strike down parts of the bill.”