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BLOG: New French surveillance law: From fear to controversy

Jean-Loup Richet | Jan. 8, 2014
America's NSA scandal has been making headlines all over the world since it first came to light back in July. Somehow, though, France's surveillance program has managed to fly under the radar for the most part.

America's NSA scandal has been making headlines all over the world since it first came to light back in July.  Somehow, though, France's surveillance program has managed to fly under the radar for the most part.

Just a few days after the news of the NSA scandal broke, French newspaper Le Monde revealed that France had a similar program which routinely swept up “nearly all … data transmissions, including telephone calls, e-mails and social media activity that come in and out of France.”  According to a recent report that was leaked by Edward Snowden and obtained by the UK's Guardian newspaper, France, Germany, Spain, and Sweden all have the ability to tap into fibre optic cables - meaning that it's relatively easy for them to spy on phone and Internet activities.

In fact, more documents released by Snowden reportedly show that French intelligence agencies had given massive quantities of data to their counterparts in both the U.S. and the U.K.

Amazingly, all of this was going on while President François Hollande expressed ‘profound reprobation’ over the NSA revelations.  U.S. President Barack Obama even made a conciliatory phone call to Hollande and admitted that the situation raised “legitimate questions for our friends and allies.”

Even though France's actions haven't been talked about anywhere near as much as the NSA scandal has, the French government says it has begun working on new ways to legitimize these widespread powers of surveillance. A new law just passed by the French Senate defines the conditions under which intelligence agencies may survey citizen’s data - including telephone conversations, email correspondence, web browsing activity, and personal location data.

According to Giuseppe de Martino, the director of The Association des Services Internet Communautaires, or @sic, the new laws will allow the authorities to seize “all documents stocked in a ‘cloud’ service subscribed by a given Internet user” for anti-terrorism and organized crime investigations without any form of judicial oversight.  Under the Article 13 of the new law, both police and security forces will be able to gather all of this information in real time, without ever speaking to a judge.  They'll also be able to track the location of mobile devices in real time, again without ever getting a judge's permission.

However, officials say this isn't anything new.  They say these provisions have been in place since 1997 - or possibly even longer. Jean-Pierre Sueur, a senator from the Socialist Party, commented that “If [people are] angry about this, they ought to have been angry for 23 years.”

 

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