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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.

Not so, says France's Green Party.

In fact, they have begun a campaign to force the courts to review the new law.  They claim that it does a whole lot more than just regulate existing powers.  In fact, they argue that the new law actually expands these shadowy powers.

How so?

Before the law, surveillance was allowed in cases of national security and counter-terrorism.  Now, however, surveillance can take place in order to protect “the scientific and economic potential of France.” The Green Party claims that the legislation will harm France economically, with many businesses choosing not to invest in a country which has a reputation for spying on its own citizens, as well as foreign businesses. Several Internet and corporate groups as well as human rights organisations have also opposed the law as a threat to individual privacy or to France’s economic interests.

European officials have been volubly outraged by the recent allegations of the U.S.’s spying, with European Union President Martin Schultz commenting that, “If the allegations prove to be true, it would be an extremely serious matter which will have a severe impact on E.U.-U.S. relations.”

However, as many U.S. officials pointed out in the wake of the scandal, Europeans are actually more likely to be spied upon by their own governments than American citizens. Stewart Baker, former general counsel of the NSA, has pointed to research done by the Max Planck Institute which found that “you're 100 times more likely to be surveilled by your own government if you live in the Netherlands or you live in Italy [. And] you're 30 to 50 times more likely to be surveilled if you're a French or a German national than in the United States.” Lawyer Christopher Wolf conducted a study which found that intelligence agencies in Europe require less judicial approval for their activities than their U.S. counterparts.

In the U.S., Barack Obama’s own panel of experts have reportedly advised the President to end the program that caused the furore, because it's so easily abused and, furthermore, it's not necessary to prevent attacks.  The report warns, “We cannot discount the risk, in light of the lessons of our own history, that at some point in the future, high-level government officials will decide that this massive database of extraordinarily sensitive private information is there for the plucking.”

If the U.S. does decide to put an end to PRISM, we can only hope that other countries - including France - will follow suit. However, with Hollande having recently declared war on “the tranquillity of anonymity that allows unspeakable things to be said” on the internet, it looks like respecting the privacy of his citizens is the furthest thing from his mind.

Source: Computerworld

 

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