Police Violence—and an Unpopular New Bill—Spark French Protests

Thousands of people in the streets protesting police violence, opposing an administration that cracks down on civil liberties, and outrage sparked by a brutal assault on an innocent black man: What sounds like America’s summer describes the streets of Paris last weekend. More than 5,000 people in Paris and about 50,000 all over the country protested a proposed law that would give the government new police powers. The so-called global security law would allow the use of live CCTV footage for law enforcement purposes and deploy surveillance drones for protests while at the same time ban the recording of on-duty police officers.

At the end of November, France’s National Assembly passed the legislation, which seeks to address increasing violent crime, particularly in cities. It has been tabled for now by Emmanuel Macron’s La République En Marche party, and Macron himself has vowed changes to the law. Civil rights groups have raised alarms about various aspects of the legislation.

With CCTV and drone footage at the disposal of law enforcement, it isn’t far-fetched to believe that facial recognition technology, which is very controversial in Europe, will also be in use. As French public radio reports, companies are already gearing up to provide the government with the necessary software as the technology is tested in different cities. In July, the European Parliament’s committee on civil liberties backed a moratorium on the technology, which it warns could undermine the presumption of innocence, liberty, and security. The United Kingdom, which has left the European Union, began to deploy facial recognition technology earlier this year.

The bill will also strengthen the power of local police, yet fails to provide any additional training for those officers. Most controversial in Macron’s police reform, however, is a ban on recording on-duty police officers. The government says that it seeks to protect officers from targeted violence, but civil rights groups say it undermines the very liberties law enforcement exists to safeguard. The change has a striking double standard—while police will have increased power to film citizens, the latter would not be able to document their encounters with law enforcement in video anymore.

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