French court finds police use of drones to manage Covid-19 crisis unlawful

The ruling found the police not to have complied with the requirements set in the French data protection law.

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In a legal challenge brought by French activist group, La Quadrature du Net (LGDN), the Conseil d’État, the French highest court, has ruled that the use of drones by the police in the context of monitoring compliance with Covid-19 lockdown measures was unlawful.

The ruling found that the imagery and footage captured by drones flying at a low altitude was personal data to the extent that individuals filmed were identifiable. Consequently, the operation of drones by the police amounted to data processing, and the activity fell within the remit of the French data protection law.

The French data protection law requires any data processing activities to be authorised by statute or executive order, and accompanied by a public assessment by the French Commission on Information and Liberties (CNIL). None of these steps had been taken in relation to the use of drones.

The Court ordered for all drone surveillance activities related to monitoring compliance with Covid-19 measures to be suspended until the requirements set by the data protection law were met.