The French authorities have approved the use of two spy drones to monitor this year's Strasbourg Christmas market. (Photo by Arnold Jerocki/Getty Images)


France rolls out drones for Strasbourg Christmas Market


The French authorities have approved the use of two spy drones to monitor this year’s Strasbourg Christmas Market.

Plans regarding the use of spy drones were first announced to the public earlier in November. That quickly prompted a legal challenge from locals claiming they represented a breach of the fundamental rights of those attending.

Their lawyers argued that the “indiscriminate” surveillance the drones could not be justified and would enable the authorities to identify sensitive information about innocent people.

This includes data related to their sexual orientation, they claimed, as a drone could spot whether someone attended an LGBT-focused stand or event at the market or in the wider city.

Ruling on the challenge, the local Strasbourg administrative court rejected these claims, saying that the use of the two drones was proportionate considering “the size of the area to be secured, the expected crowds and the particular configuration of the premises including many narrow streets”.

The judge said that the “circumstances justified a particular deployment of security forces, supplemented by the use of two drones, which will make it possible to detect abnormal crowd movements more quickly and to direct the interventions of law enforcement in a more rapid and relevant manner.”

With these considerations in mind, he concluded that the use of drones was “not disproportionate to the pursued objective of public safety”.

The judge did not completely dismiss the complaints of those who brought the case, saying that while the police were permitted to use drones, they could only do so to ensure public safety.

“Apart from these objectives of maintaining order, the use of the images for other purposes was strictly prohibited,” he said.

The judge qualified that statement, adding that the recorded footage could be used to help prosecute certain serious criminal offences.

The ruling comes amid heightened concerns regarding digitally enabled State spying in France, with many in the country fearful of a rollout of monitoring tech by the authorities.

A particular flashpoint has been the upcoming Paris Summer Olympics, for which the country approved the use of algorithmically-powered video surveillance earlier this year.

One digital rights lawyer said: “This is a massive surveillance tool that allows police to analyse our behaviour … and to decide who is normal and who is suspicious based on their own stereotypes,” arguing that the technology would be used to “detect what the police want it to detect”.

France has also legalised the remote bugging of various high-tech devices as part of certain criminal investigations.

Politicians and pundits noted that the new legislation allows the country’s law enforcement agencies to hack into such devices as high-tech sex toys to spy on their users.