The bill, approved on Thursday in the National Assembly by a 75 to 33 vote, broadens the powers of the country’s municipal police force, boosts the officers’ ability to use drones for public surveillance among citizens, and cracks down on suspects convicted of beating police officers.
The most talked about discussion makes it an offense to help officers identify with intent to harm.
“Policemen and gendarmes are the republic’s children and they must be protected because they protect us every day,” French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin proclaimed after the bill’s passage in the parliament’s lower house.
The chamber, where French President Emmanuel Macron holds a large majority, proposed the controversial legislation. The country’s senate has already adopted the bill.
Darmanin said it would be “embarrassing” for France if it could not stop people with malicious intent from publicly distributing information or photos of security forces.
However, critics including French journalists’ associations, civil liberties groups and the government’s own human rights watchdog contend that the laws are too broad.
“In the hands of an authoritarian government, this law would be a deadly weapon to keep an eye on the people and to suppress them,” said Director of Amnesty International France Cassell Codrio in a statement earlier in the week.
The rights group further warned in a Twitter post about the “dangers” the bill posed to civil liberties and censured its “generalized surveillance practices.”
In an effort to suppress criticism, French lawmakers redrafted the most controversial article of the original draft of the bill. It now states that helping to identify on-duty police officers with “obvious” harmful intent will be punishable by up to five years in prison and a 75,000 euro-fine.
Opponents continue to emphasize, however, that the new draft remains vague and subject to interpretation by police officers. They further express fears it will intimidate people trying to expose police abuse and discrimination by taking and publishing pictures and videos, noting that the bill does not offer adequate protection, for instance, against police drones violating people’s privacy.
“This bill … throws suspicion on the role of police. It gives the impression that this necessary public service can’t be subject to any criticism from citizens,” said Alexis Corbiere, a lawmaker from the far-left La France Insoumise Party who opposed the bill.
He also argued that the bill “did nothing to improve the necessary trust between citizens and their police”, adding it casts doubt on the role of the police.
There have been massive protests against the bill in the past, and the public outcry over police brutality, especially the beating of a black music producer in Paris who was caught on security cameras in November.
Tens of thousands of protesters marched in Paris last November to condemn the initial draft of the bill that made it illegal to simply publish images of police officers with harmful intent.