France banned from using surveillance drones to trace migrants at border

The Nation  |  Jul 26, 2021

According to a ruling by France's National Commission on Informatics and Liberty (CNIL), the government might have breached migrants' privacy by using drones.

Migrants trying to cross from the north of France to the UK have been a thorny issue for London for a long time. Downing Street’s efforts to curb the influx of illegal migration across the English Channel have resulted in a number of deals between Paris and London.

The agreement struck in November 2020 doubled the number of officers on French beaches to improve the patrolling of the 150-km stretch of coastline “regularly targeted by people-smuggling networks.” 

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel and her French counterpart Gérald Darmanin also agreed on the use of drones, radar, optronic binoculars and fixed cameras.

The Britons said the specialist equipment will allow the French to “be more efficient in searching and clearing areas faster and help to ensure officers are deployed in the right place at the right time, as a result increasing the number of migrants and facilitators detected and prevented from entering the water.”

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However, CNIL has found that the French government had been using drones illegally to enforce coronavirus restrictions and for other purposes. In May, a ruling by France's highest court suspended the practice in Paris.

In the latest deal between Paris and London, Patel agreed to pay France £54 million to help clamp down on migrants crossing the English Channel by boat.

The move was criticised by the UK opposition and shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said that instead of working with other countries to disrupt the migrant-trafficking gangs, the Government is simply “throwing money at the problem".

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