Yesterday French Parliamentarians voted overwhelmingly in favour of creating their very own version of the US Patriot Act.
The fast-tracked law will give French intelligence services lots of new snooping superpowers with little or no judicial oversight.
The controversial Projet de Loi Relatif au Renseignement was presented to parliament by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls following the Charlie Hebdo attacks, but was in the pipeline long before that, leading civil rights activists to accuse the government of “blackmailling” the public with the threat of terrorism.
Le Charteur des Snoopeurs would allow spies to use International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catchers to hoover up telephone data and to access emails and online communications of anyone suspected of being linked to terrorism without a court order. It also puts most of the power in the hands of the French Prime Minister. Only a newly dreamed-up executive oversight board would be able to prevent specific cases of spying - and even then a majority of the 9-member board would have to object.
France has already expanded its surveillance capacity twice in the past 14 months, so it is no real surprise that the bill was approved by a vote of 438 to 86.
“Yesterday’s vote shows that two thirds of French Parliamentarians are willing to curtail our rights and freedoms in the effort to fight terrorism, in a bill that is not even about terrorism. This is outrageous,” said Raegan MacDonald, European Policy Manager at civil-liberties campaigning group Access.
She’s not the only one upset. Last month MEPs Nathalie Griesbeck, Sophie in't Veld, Cecilia Wikström, Filiz Hyusmenova and Louis Michel formally asked the European Commission to investigate whether the French law is legal and the Council of Europe (Not-An-EU-Institution™) was so worried about the bill that it has called on its 47 member countries to come up with a code of conduct for intelligence services.
The bill must yet be approved by France’s upper house. The Senate is more sceptical than the parliament, but it is still very likely to pass. In an effort to avoid controversy, the French Government has also promised to send it to the national constitutional council for review before implementing it. ®