French MPs mull new spy laws in wake of attacks

13th April 2015, Comments 0 comments

More than three months after Islamist attacks in Paris that killed 17, French MPs will on Monday debate controversial new laws allowing spies to hoover up data from suspected jihadists.

The draft laws have sparked a firestorm of protest from rights groups which charge they infringe on individuals' privacy.

But the government insists they are vital for effective policing with France facing, in the words of Prime Minister Manuel Valls, its greatest ever terrorist threat.

Valls himself will present the legislation in the National Assembly lower house of parliament later Monday -- a sign of the importance the government attaches to the bill.

The text enjoys support from both main parties and is therefore certain to be adopted when deputies vote on May 5.

The new law allows authorities to spy on the digital and mobile communications of anyone linked to a "terrorist" enquiry without prior authorisation from a judge, and forces Internet Service Providers (ISPs) 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.

The authorities will be able to keep recordings for a month, and metadata for five years.

The MP who drafted the law, Jean-Jacques Urvoas, noted that France is the "only Western democracy" without a precisely defined legal framework for its surveillance operations.

This means French spooks are operating in a legal "grey zone," opening them up to legal challenges, said Urvoas.

A poll published on Sunday showed that nearly two-thirds of French people were in favour of restricting freedoms in the name of fighting terrorism.

Only 32 percent of those surveyed in the CSA poll for Atlantico 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."

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve hit back, however, saying over the weekend: "Speaking of generalised surveillance is a lie."

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© 2015 AFP

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