France passes sweeping new spying law
France passed a controversial new spying law on Wednesday granting sweeping powers to snoop on citizens on the same day that leaked documents caused uproar over US espionage against French leaders.
The law has been touted by the government as a vital update to ageing regulations dating back to pre-Internet days, and was overwhelmingly passed by lawmakers from both left and right, though with dissident voices among almost every political group.
Although it had been in the pipeline for some time, the proposed law gained added support in the wake of the jihadist attacks in Paris in January that left 17 people dead.
But it has been criticised by rights groups such as Amnesty International, which has described it as taking France "a step closer to a surveillance state".
France remains on high alert and is struggling to monitor the hundreds of young Muslims leaving to fight with jihadists in Syria and Iraq, as well as keep tabs on potential attacks at home.
The vote came at an awkward time for French lawmakers, less than 24 hours after leaked documents appeared to prove the US had spied on President Francois Hollande and his predecessors between 2006 and 2012, sparking a diplomatic spat between the two countries.
France expressed outrage at the "unacceptable" US spying on President Francois Hollande and his two predecessors that was detailed in leaked documents.
The new French law allows authorities to spy on the digital and mobile communications of anyone linked to a "terrorist" inquiry without prior authorisation from a judge, and forces Internet service providers and phone companies to give up data upon request.
Intelligence services will have the right to place cameras and recording devices in private dwellings and install "keylogger" devices that record every key stroke on a targeted computer in real time.
The authorities will be able to keep recordings for a month, and metadata for five years.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls has fiercely defended the bill, saying that to compare it to the mass surveillance "Patriot Act" introduced in the United States after the 9/11 attacks was a "lie".
He has pointed out that the previous law on wiretapping dates back to 1991, "when there were no mobile phones or Internet," which makes the new bill crucial in the face of extremist threats.
But Amnesty's Europe director Gauri van Gulik said earlier this year that "this bill is too vague, too far-reaching and leaves too many unanswered questions."
"Parliament should ensure that measures meant to protect people from terror should not violate their basic rights," he said.
- 'Mass surveillance' -
Perhaps the most controversial of the bill's proposals are so-called "black boxes" -- or complex algorithms -- that Internet providers will be forced to install to flag up a pattern of suspicious behaviour online such as what keywords someone types, what sites they consult, who they contact and when.
A poll published in April showed that nearly two-thirds of French people were in favour of restricting freedoms in the name of fighting extremism.
Only 32 percent of those surveyed in the CSA poll for the Atlantico news website said they were opposed to freedoms being reduced, although this proportion rose significantly among young people.
However, the national digital council, an independent advisory body, has come out against the proposed legislation.
The group said it was akin to "mass surveillance" which has "been shown to be extremely inefficient in the United States".
It also said it was "unsuited to the challenges of countering terrorist recruitment" and "does not provide sufficient guarantees in terms of freedoms".
© 2015 AFP