France’s Counseil D’État has ordered Paris Police to stop using drones for surveillance and enforcement of the city’s gradually easing coronavirus restrictions.

Digital rights association La Quadrature du Net – which lodged the complaint along with the Human Rights League – praised the court’s verdict.

“This decision is a major victory against drone surveillance,” La Quadrature du Net said in a statement.

“It sets as illegal any drone equipped with camera and flying low enough, as such a drone would allow the police to detect individuals by their clothing or a distinctive sign.”

Paris Police had been using drones to detect public gatherings that were in contravention of coronavirus restrictions.

Police argued their drones could not have been used beyond their intended scope of crowd monitoring because they flew between 80 and 100 metres high, were equipped with only a wide-angle lens, and did not have memory cards.

The judge, however, said there was no technical limitation on the drones to stop them from being used to identify people.

He therefore ruled that the drones’ use constituted the “processing of personal data” and did not adhere to the relevant legal frameworks around data protection.

A ministerial decree and review from the French information commissioner, the CNIL, would be needed for police to return to drone surveillance.

Otherwise, police could ensure the drones are equipped with technology preventing them from personally identifying people.

Last month, French authorities issued a tender to purchase $6.3 million worth of drone equipment.