Paris (AFP)

The French gendarme of personal data, the Cnil, on Wednesday pronounced against the agrochemist Monsanto (owned by Bayer) a fine of 400,000 euros for illegally filing public figures, journalists and activists in order to influence the public debate on the ban on glyphosate.

The regulator, recipient of 7 complaints "emanating in particular from people concerned by this file", accuses the company of having failed in its obligation to inform people, who only learned of the existence of this data processing when of its revelation in the media in May 2019.

According to its investigation, the file in question contained for each of the "more than 200 personalities" registered in the file, a "score ranging from 1 to 5" allowing "to assess its influence, its credibility and its support for Monsanto on various subjects such as pesticides or genetically modified organisms ".

The case, revealed in 2019 by the daily Le Monde and the television channel France 2 following a leak of confidential documents from communication agencies, had quickly spread to Europe.

Lists of personalities (politicians, scientists, journalists) also existed in at least six other countries (Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, United Kingdom) as well as for the European institutions, said Bayer.

"During the proceedings, the French data protection supervisory authority considerably reduced the initial scope of the allegations made against Monsanto," Bayer responded in a statement to AFP.

"However, the CNIL took a decision which differs significantly from our interpretation concerning the classification of Monsanto as data controller and the related legal obligations", adds the group, which specifies that a law firm mandated to seek other lists in Europe had "found no evidence of illegal behavior".

"The creation of contact files by interest representatives for lobbying purposes is not, in itself, illegal," explains the Cnil in its press release.

"On the other hand, only people who can reasonably expect, because of their notoriety or their activity, to be the subject of contacts in the sector," adds the Commission.

It is also necessary that "the data entered in the file have been legally collected and that the persons are informed of the existence of the file, in order to be able to exercise their rights, in particular their right of opposition."

- Complaints and apologies

"Information is an essential right which conditions the exercise of other rights (rights of access, opposition, erasure, etc.) from which people benefit: in this case, they have been prevented from doing so for several years", insists the CNIL, which also noted a breach of the obligation to regulate the processing of data carried out by subcontractors.

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Following the scandal, the German chemist Bayer, owner of the American Monsanto since 2018, had apologized and put an end "until further notice" to his collaboration in terms of communication with the agency Fleishman Hillard, which had established these files.

He also pledged to contact the personalities present on these lists, while several media (including Le Monde, France Télévisions, Radio France, Le Parisien and Agence France-Presse), NGOs and the environmentalist party EELV had announced after the revelations to have seized the Cnil and / or the French justice.

The latter had announced the opening of an investigation into suspicions of illegal filing which targets in particular the head of "collection of personal data by fraudulent, unfair or unlawful means".

In May, the European Commission gave France the green light for a tax credit for farmers who decide to give up the use of glyphosate-based herbicides.

In the United States, Bayer signed in June 2020 an agreement worth more than $ 10 billion to put an end to some 125,000 complaints against its flagship and very controversial herbicide Round'Up, an agreement partially rejected last May by the American justice system.

© 2021 AFP