When the National Assembly voted on a new version of the French Security Law on 24 November, it had already begun. Four days earlier, the Assemblée nationale had approved the recast in first reading, and the week before there were first protests. At the end of the week, tens of thousands took to the streets.
It was a protest for freedom of the press, against control and police violence. The most controversial point: if the new version becomes law, the police may no longer be photographed or filmed at demonstrations according to Article 24. At least if the “mental or physical integrity of the officers is endangered” and their face is recognizable.
November 2020: “dangerous for fundamental rights”
A waxy formulation, because in case of doubt the filmed assess the danger. Anyone violating Article 24 will face a penalty of up to 45,000 euros and a year in prison. Other articles deal with drone and video surveillance. Before the vote, a passage in Article 24 was inserted at the last minute, which states that it must not affect press rights.
This did not reassure opponents of the law. Several journalist organizations and NGOs see press freedom and civil rights threatened by the “Loi sécurité globale”. Amnesty International called the law “dangerous for fundamental rights”.
It is possible that Macron had thought of the presidential and parliamentary elections due in spring 2022 and therefore wanted to be one step ahead of the Rassemblement National leader Marine Le Pen in terms of security. Or that he simply meant well with policemen and they in front of personal hostility in the style of " Who knows this police-A…?“wanted to protect. In this case, good was meant but rather the opposite of well done.
Well meant is the opposite of well done
Police violence is an ever-recurring theme in France, the record of the Yellow vest protests speaks volumes in this regard. On November 23, the evening before the vote, the police evacuated a refugee protest camp on Place de la République. Images of people being dragged from their tents by police with batons quickly reached social networks.
The mayor of Paris addressed French Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin, who called the images of beating police “shocking”. In the same week, a brutal and apparently unprovoked police assault on a black music producers. A security camera filmed the incident. Now Macron was also “shocked”. At the end of the week, tens of thousands protested against the new security law and riots broke out.
December 2020: The Council of Europe intervenes
The recast went the normal way to the Senate, the vote was scheduled for January. The Council of Europe intervened on 15 December 2020. In a letter to the chairman and members of the Legal Committee of the French Senate, the Council of Europe’s [Commissioner for Human Rights](/static/downloads/32_Lettre au Sénat français_FR.pdf.pdf “Mesdames et Messieurs les Sénatrices et Sénateurs”), Dunja Mijatović, urged the Senate to make substantial changes to the draft “Comprehensive Security Law” in order to better reconcile it with human rights.
January 2021: The Senate takes advice
The Senate first asked the CNIL (Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés) for an opinion, which it issued on 26 January.
The opinion of the data protection officers deals above all with the extension of video and drone surveillance, which, CNIL notes, interferes with personal rights and is not yet sufficiently regulated.
With regard to Article 24, it points out that filming and photographing police officers is also a processing of personal data. In detail, she comments:
… Video recordings with the exception of processing by natural persons in the exercise of purely personal or domestic activities. In this case, the Commission stresses that the use or re-use of these records for the sole purpose of harming law enforcement authorities cannot constitute processing for a lawful purpose within the meaning of the RGPD and can therefore be prohibited under both the amended Law of 6 June 2016 and the Law of 6 July 2016. According to the provisions of the Criminal Code on “Violations of personal rights by computer files or processing”, this is also punishable by law from 1 January 1978.
In other words, anyone who only films police officers in order to harm them is already making himself a criminal. The French Senate now wants to draft its own bill.
Opponents demand removal of articles 21, 22 and 24
Critics of the law call for the complete deletion of Articles 21, 22 and 24 of the Security Act. They see press freedom in danger and fear a free pass for violent policemen. Even now, the police feel emboldened by violent behaviour. Many crimes committed by police officers would have gone unpunished had they not been filmed, they argue. The pressure on the investigating authorities also increases when such recordings are published on the Internet.
January 2021: Protesters ' base widens
Between the middle and the end of January, opponents of the law called for renewed demonstrations. Although the number of participants was lower than in November and December, more than 33,000 people demonstrated in Paris, Montpellier and other cities.
In addition to opponents of the law, demonstrators protesting against the corona measures, yellow vests and people simply fed up with the restrictions of the pandemic. In Nantes and Perpignan, the demonstrations dissolved into rave events. To be continued, possibly.