The Council of State, which acts as the French government’s legal adviser and as the supreme court for administrative justice, nonetheless refused to let Polloni see the information and ordered the Military Intelligence Directorate (DRM) to destroy it.
As the new intelligence law that France adopted in July 2015 makes this kind of information gathering legal and makes it impossible for journalists, in practice, to ensure the confidentiality of their sources, RSF is calling for a new law on the protection of journalists’ sources.
The Council of State’s ruling was the outcome of a request that Polloni filed in September 2011 to find out what information the French police and intelligence services had on her in their files.
Everyone has the right to make such a request but Polloni, who specializes in covering police and judicial matters, had a particular interest. She wanted to make sure that the authorities had not placed her under any surveillance that might endanger the confidentiality of her sources.
After six years of judicial proceedings, the Council of State finally ruled on 8 November that “data concerning Ms. Polloni appeared illegally in the personal information files” of the DRM and that this data should be deleted. But, despite her request, Polloni was not given access to this data.
The case confirms RSF’s concerns about the July 2015 intelligence law, which made it possible for the specialized intelligence agencies (DGSE, DRSD, DRM, DGSI, DNRED and Tracfin) to use intelligence-gathering methods that had previously been illegal or limited to the judicial police.
The 2015 law has made it easy for these agencies to monitor journalists’ communications and messaging and to discover who they are communicating with. So, as RSF feared as soon as the law was first proposed, it facilitates violations of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.
“It is very disturbing that the Council of State recognizes that the intelligence services held data on a journalist but is not letting her see it so that she could be sure that the confidentiality of her sources has not been jeopardized,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s Europe-Balkans desk.
“We condemn the fact that France’s intelligence law makes it possible to violate the protection of journalists’ sources. Journalists should be able to work without being spied on and without any threat to the confidentiality of their sources.”
This case has highlighted the need for a new law on protecting the confidentiality of sources. Legal breaches of this confidentiality should be possible only in very exceptional circumstances and a judge’s prior authorization should be required to ensure that the exceptions are kept to the minimum.
France is ranked 39th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.