France’s new global security law, which has already been debated in the National Assembly, has provoked an outcry from organisations defending fundamental rights and freedoms, parties, trade unions and the media. They consider it a grave threat to the freedom of expression and information and demand, in particular, the withdrawal of the controversial Article 24.
After five hours of tense debate, with intense exchanges between some MPs and Interior Minister Gérald Damanin, the National Assembly approved the controversial article by 146 votes in favour, compared to 24 votes not in favour.
The provision, which is discretionary and subjective by nature, gives the police the right to detain anyone who records them merely on the grounds that they feel uncomfortable being recorded. According to its opponents, it impinges on press freedoms and weakens any attempt to hold law enforcement agencies accountable for excesses in their operations.
Article 24 of the bill promoted by the French Government would impose up to a year in prison and sanctions of up to €45,000 for spreading images of the face of a law enforcement officer with intent to “attack their physical or mental integrity”.
The controversial article responds to genuine concern among French law enforcement officers, who for years have been subjected to significant tensions in the fight against terrorism, social uprisings that have often led to hostility against police officials, including the municipal police, and hate campaigns on social media.
A second contentious article authorises law enforcement officers to carry their regulatory weapon in a public building, even when they are not on duty. This change seeks to address situations like the attack that took place in the Bataclan in November 2015, which saw 90 people killed, including three off-duty police officers who were unable to intervene.
There have been numerous protests against the passing of the law. These have been supported by some left-wing forces and unions, as well as far-left groups, with slogans such as: “Drop your guns, we’ll drop our phones”, “Orwell was right”, “A camera has never killed anyone” or “Global security, total impunity”.
Claire Hédon, France’s Defender of Rights, also intervened in the controversy, calling Article 24 a “violation of freedom of expression that is neither necessary, appropriate or proportionate, and which will, at the same time, act as an obstacle to monitoring law enforcement”.
Hédon believes the bill has three fundamental flaws. Firstly, there is no need for new laws because the current ones already protect the police and gendarmes; the second is the ambiguity of the wording, and the third is that the restrictive interpretation could lead journalists to self-censor. She added that any restriction on freedom of information requires rigorous contemplation and should not be passed for circumstantial reasons.