Two months after attacks, France bolsters law on surveillance
France's government is due to propose a raft of measures on Thursday aimed at improving the surveillance of potential jihadists, two months after gunmen killed 17 people in Paris.
The draft legislation will allow French authorities to watch over people suspected of preparing “terrorist” acts without prior authorisation from a judge.
The proposal has already sparked outrage from those who see it as an attack on individual freedoms, in the country that sees itself as the cradle of human rights.
The office of Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who is presenting the draft law in cabinet on Thursday, noted that France is “one of the last Western democracies not to have a coherent and complete legal framework” governing its security services.
The legislation will enable snooping on electronic communications and telephone conversations if there is a direct link with an ongoing enquiry into a suspect.
French spies will also be allowed to use “devices that enable words and images to be recorded or programmes that tap electronic data.”
The law enables real-time tracking of what is written on a suspect’s computer and forces Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to give up data if the security services request this.
Mindful of a potential backlash, authorities have been at pains to stress this is not a French-style “Patriot Act”, which was introduced by the United States in response to the attacks on September 11, 2001, giving intelligence agencies broad powers to spy on its citizens.
Procedures will be “precisely defined”, any request for data will have to be “justified” and decisions to begin surveillance will be taken personally by the prime minister and will be for a limited time.
Nevertheless, critics jumped on the plan as an attack on privacy and personal freedoms.
The head of the country’s Human Rights League, Pierre Tartakowsky, said: “We are putting in place a system that is potentially killing freedom.”
“On the pretext of improving surveillance, we are sacrificing individual liberties.”
However, polls show that the French want to step up surveillance in the wake of the January attacks that shook the country.
An Ipsos survey for Europe 1 radio station and Le Monde daily at the end of January showed 71 percent of people were in favour of general bugging without the need to get a warrant from a judge.