French bill to expand spying powers is criticized

Dec 10, 2013 by Sarah Dilorenzo

The French government, which was among the most vocal critics of U.S. spying practices, is now coming under fire for trying to expand its own digital surveillance capabilities.

A law making its way through parliament would give French intelligence services access to telephone and Internet usage data that would let them locate and follow a target of a terrorism investigation in real time. The law also expands the number of agents allowed to access this information to include those from the finance and budget ministries.

In addition, the law would give agents access not just to meta data about users from website hosts but allow them to seize content stored on websites and in clouds. In at least some cases, agents could request information not just to combat terrorism but also to fight industrial espionage.

Critics say the law expands the government's power without also expanding the checks on that power. They claim it could dissuade digital businesses from setting up in France.

Both houses have already passed the bill but in different versions. The Senate was examining it again Tuesday in an attempt to reconcile the differences.

The law may come as a surprise to some because of France's recent indignation at revelations the U.S. swept up more than 70 million French telephone records. But France is traditionally on the other side of the issue: cooperating with allied governments on anti-terrorism operations.

France has long struggled to walk the line between its image of itself as the country of human rights and its need for tight security laws amid waves of terrorism on French soil. The country has a robust security apparatus, honed during terrorist attacks in the 1980s and 1990s.

In fact, parts of the new law simply make permanent powers that had been temporarily granted and repeatedly renewed since the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States.

The government has defended the bill as necessary to modernize and streamline intelligence-gathering powers in the face of increasingly sophisticated tactics by its enemies. It noted that the National Commission for the Control of Security Interceptions, which ensures the legality of communications surveillance, and the French National Commission on Computing and Freedom would provide oversight.

"It seems to me that we're now moving toward a balance between operational efficiency ... and the respect of freedoms," French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament.

But groups that represent Internet service providers and defend digital freedoms think the proposed law goes too far.

"Considering the recently uncovered evidence of massive and generalized spying on citizens, the maneuvers of the president and of the government deceive no one," said Philippe Aigrain, co-founder of La Quadrature du Net, a lobby that urges governments to protect personal data and Internet freedom. "This bill sets up a generalized surveillance regime and risks to destroy once and for all the limited trust between citizens and agencies responsible for security."

The French business lobby Medef said the could be particularly harmful to the country's efforts to attract innovative businesses.

"This is a serious infringement of the confidence all actors must have in the Internet," Medef said in a statement.

Explore further: EU lawmakers push leaders on data privacy

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

EU lawmakers push leaders on data privacy

Oct 22, 2013

European Union lawmakers on Tuesday urged heads of state and government to endorse a proposal for beefed-up data privacy laws ahead of a summit in Brussels later this week.

UK gov't told to rethink data surveillance plan

Dec 11, 2012

(AP)—British lawmakers on Tuesday demanded the government water down plans to keep track of phone calls, email and Internet activity—a bill critics dub a "snooper's charter."

New Zealand passes law allowing domestic spying

Aug 21, 2013

New Zealand passed legislation Wednesday allowing its main intelligence agency to spy on residents and citizens, despite opposition from rights groups, international technology giants and the legal fraternity.

Recommended for you

Study: Social media users shy away from opinions

Aug 26, 2014

People on Facebook and Twitter say they are less likely to share their opinions on hot-button issues, even when they are offline, according to a surprising new survey by the Pew Research Center.

US warns shops to watch for customer data hacking

Aug 23, 2014

The US Department of Homeland Security on Friday warned businesses to watch for hackers targeting customer data with malicious computer code like that used against retail giant Target.

Fitbit to Schumer: We don't sell personal data

Aug 22, 2014

The maker of a popular line of wearable fitness-tracking devices says it has never sold personal data to advertisers, contrary to concerns raised by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.

Should you be worried about paid editors on Wikipedia?

Aug 22, 2014

Whether you trust it or ignore it, Wikipedia is one of the most popular websites in the world and accessed by millions of people every day. So would you trust it any more (or even less) if you knew people ...

How much do we really know about privacy on Facebook?

Aug 22, 2014

The recent furore about the Facebook Messenger app has unearthed an interesting question: how far are we willing to allow our privacy to be pushed for our social connections? In the case of the Facebook ...

Philippines makes arrests in online extortion ring

Aug 22, 2014

Philippine police have arrested eight suspected members of an online syndicate accused of blackmailing more than 1,000 Hong Kong and Singapore residents after luring them into exposing themselves in front of webcam, an official ...

User comments : 0