In a decision handed down on February 25, 2010, the French Constitutional Court ruled that the right to privacy derives from Article 2 of the Declaration of Human Rights, and is therefore considered a constitutional right under French law.  The Court also ruled that the legislature must strike a balance between the right to privacy and other fundamental interests, such as preventing threats to public safety, which are necessary to preserve constitutional rights and principles.

In its decision, the Court ruled on several provisions of a legislative bill (the “Bill”) aimed at combating acts of group violence and protecting public servants.  This Bill would have authorized the owners of buildings to provide live, closed-circuit video surveillance images of a building’s common areas to local or national law enforcement authorities in the event that activities taking place on the premises might require police intervention.  The Court ruled against this provision on the grounds that it did not provide the safeguards necessary to protect the privacy rights of individuals living in the buildings.

Following the Court’s ruling, the French Data Protection Authority (the “CNIL”) took the opportunity to restate that video surveillance images are considered “personal data” since they allow for the identification of individuals.  Consequently, any video surveillance using a system that is installed on the private premises of a building (e.g., in hallways, staircases or elevators) constitutes a data processing activity within the scope of the Data Protection Act and requires prior notification to the CNIL.

View the full text of the Court’s decision and the CNIL’s comments (both in French).