FECL 32 (March 1995):


In an effort to cope with increasing street delinquency, the Gendarmerie in some Belgian towns is "pro-actively" registering and filming non-suspect youths, as recent cases have revealed.

In last December, the Gendarmerie carried out a vast operation of identity checks at a square in Brussels frequented by many youths. Twenty seven youths were brought to the Gendarmerie station. The Gendarmerie took photographs of all the youths and registered their particulars.

None of the youths had, however, committed any offence. The operation of the Gendarmerie had been ordered by the Royal Prosecutor of Brussels following a series of assaults in the area. The Prosecutor later admitted that he had ordered the operation within the scope of "pro-active" or "preventive" search of delinquents, but that there was nothing illegal about such proceedings.

The proceedings of the police angered social workers in the district who in particular wanted to know, why pictures had been taken of the youths. One social worker was told by the Gendarmerie that this was done in order to set up a photo-album to be shown to victims of aggression.

Youths complain that the gendarmerie has conducted similar operations at other occasions. Each time the youths concerned were told that the objective was to set up a "register".

Legal experts of the Belgian League of Human Rights question the legality of such operations, and in particular, of taking pictures of non-suspects. The League suspects that police, supported by certain local prosecutors, are "setting up special registers without authorization".

The president of the Public Commission for the Respect of Privacy says that questions arise about "preventive" registers set up by police forces. The same can be said about increasingly widespread video surveillance of public places. For the time being, no regulations exist in this area.


Source: Le Soir, 20.1.95