France in an uproar over new police surveillance
French Defence Minister joined critics and expressed unease about a new police surveillance system that can target young suspects of 13.9 September 2008
PARIS -- The French government on Monday defended a new police surveillance system that can target suspects as young as 13 after the defence minister voiced unease, joining an increasing number of critics.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon declared that the government was united behind its so-called "Edvige" computerised database, set up in July to collect information on all persons "likely to disrupt public order".
Defence Minister Herve Morin at the weekend openly questioned the rationale for the sweeping new domestic spy system that will track citizens according to their political or religious affiliations as well as trade union activists among others.
"Is it really useful, to ensure the security of our compatriots, to centralise information concerning people because they have sought political office or joined a union?" Morin asked.
"Is it necessary to profile people who have played a significant economic, social or religious role, according to the terms of the decree?" he said.
Fillon on Monday sought to play down Morin's worries and hit back at suggestions from the opposition that the new database amounted to a Big Brother state spying on its citizens.
"I believe it is not necessary to create suspicions where none exist and I had the opportunity to say this to him," Fillon said, referring to the defence minister.
"There is a reality in our country and it is a clear reality in terms of security," the prime minister added.
The government has said it wants to step up domestic intelligence to better tackle a range of threats - from Islamic radicals to delinquents in the poor immigrant-heavy suburbs.
"We will not be tracking gays or people who are HIV-positive or sick," said interior ministry spokesman Gerard Gachet.
"This is information of a totally private nature and they are strictly protected by laws," Gachet told RTL radio.
Outrage has mounted over recent weeks, with several organisations, political parties and individuals challenging the legality of the database before the state council, France's top administrative court.
The council is examining a total of 13 complaints and a decision is expected in December.
[AFP / Expatica]