European Court of Human Rights
European Court of Human Rights

France: Court ruling in drug-trafficker electronic surveillance complaint

Judges have ruled that France must pay €3,500 costs and expenses of a suspected drugs trafficker after upholding a human rights complaint against national authorities.

The case concerned the surveillance measures taken against Mohamed Ben Faiza (geolocation of his vehicle and court order for telephone operator’s records) in a criminal investigation into his involvement in drug-smuggling offences.

From 2009 to 2010, the Ben Faiza brothers were suspected of involvement in large-scale drug trafficking in La Courneuve and were subjected to several surveillance measures.

On 24 July 2009, criminal police officers issued, on the authorisation of the public prosecutor, a court order to a telephone operator to obtain records of incoming and outgoing calls on four telephone lines and the list of cell towers pinged by the mobile telephones.

Last Thursday (8 February), Ben Faiza won the backing of the European Court of Human Rights.

It  decided that France had violated Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention, through the real-time geolocation of his vehicle by means of a GPSdevice on 3 June 2010.

But the court also ruled that there had been no violation of Article 8 of the European Convention concerning the court order issued to a mobile telephone operator on 24 July 2009 to obtain the list of cell towers pinged by Ben Faiza’s phone for subsequent tracking of his movements.

The court found, firstly, that in the sphere of real-time geolocation measures, French law did not at the relevant time, prior to the Law of 28 March 2014, indicate with sufficient clarity to what extent and how the authorities were entitled use their discretionary power.

Secondly, the court order issued to the telephone operator had constituted an interference with Ben Faiza’s private life but was in accordance with the law and pursued a legitimate aim (prevention of disorder or crime, etc.).

Further, the measure had been necessary in a democratic  society because it was aimed at breaking up a major drug-trafficking operation. In addition, the information obtained had been used in an investigation and a criminal trial during which Ben Faiza had been guaranteed an effective review consistent with the rule of law.

The court held that the finding of a violation of Article 8 was sufficient just satisfaction for the non-pecuniary damage claimed. Under Article 41 (just satisfaction), it held that France was to pay the applicant 3,500 euros in respect of costs and expenses.


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