Massive protests continue in France against the global security bill introduced by the Emmanuel Macron-led government in the National Assembly. Thousands protested at the Human Rights Square at Trocadero in Paris on November 21, Saturday, against the controversial bill which grants more autonomy to the local police, expands the use of surveillance drones and portable cameras by police patrols, and illegalizes the dissemination of images where police officers or gendarmes can be personally identified. Protesters denounced the bill as a grave threat to press freedom in the country. The bill will be voted on at its first reading on November 24.
Protests against the bill erupted across France on November 17 when the National Assembly started discussions on the bill. France has already introduced an array of repressive measures against protests demonstrations following the Yellow Vests protests that hit the country. Journalists and progressive sections fear that the proposed new law will eliminate another check against the abuse of power by state authorities.
Under article 24 of the new bill, sharing images of an officer’s face, unless it has been blurred, will be treated as a crime that could result in a one-year prison term or fines of up to EUR 45,000 (USD 53,354). Article 21 of the bill calls for increased use of portable cameras by patrol units and authorizes transmission of video streams to the command center in real time. Specifications under article 22 make way for legalizing the use of surveillance drones during protest demonstrations.
According to reports, the National Assembly adopted article 24 of the proposed bill on Friday with a division of 146 votes in favor and 24 against. Minister of Interior Gerald Darmanin justified it as an initiative essential to “protect those who protect us.” Deputies from the French Communist Party (PCF) and La France Insoumise (LFI) raised strong objections against the bill.
The PCF has called for withdrawal of article 24, stating that it directly threatens the freedom of information and communication to fight against police violence. The PCF expressed solidarity with the protest mobilizations against the bill.
LFI asserted that “this law is a false parliamentary initiative of LREM (The Republic on the Move party, led by Emmanuel Macron) deputies, the government actually co-wrote this text to insert the measures it wanted. He [Macron] wants to give the police and the gendarmerie greater means of control.”
Around 106 organizations, including the Syndicat des Avocats de France, Syndicat National des Journalistes, ATTAC, and the League of Human Rights, have signed a joint petition opposing the bill. In their joint statement, the organizations claim that “massive deployment of mobile cameras and drones, coupled with already existing fixed cameras, would result in a generalized surveillance capacity of public space, leaving no room for the anonymity essential to respect the right to privacy, and can only have a coercive effect on freedom of expression and demonstration.”
The organizations also raised concerns about article 24 of the bill, which ensures that images of violence committed by the police can no longer be broadcast. “The only effect of such a provision will be to increase the feeling of impunity of the violent police officers and, thus, to increase the violence committed illegally against the demonstrators,” the statement asserts.