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'The world needs to know what France is up to'

Ben McPartland · 10 Dec 2013, 12:36

Published: 10 Dec 2013 12:36 GMT+01:00

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A new bill will be discussed in France’s Senate on Tuesday, containing an article that defenders of internet freedoms say should have everyone alarmed.

The Military Programming Law, already voted through by France's National Assembly, would extend the government’s power to acquire internet users’ private data, as well as monitor email and telephone communications, without the need to be ratified in advance by a judge.

The article has belatedly sparked outrage among internet giants such as a Google and AOL as well as online rights activists, who only found out about its existence at the 11th hour.

Jérémie Zimmermann, one of the founders of French digital rights group La Quadrature du Net tells the Local why we should all be worried by this law.

Jérémie Zimmerman. Photo: Le Vinvinteur/Youtube

This is an extremely disturbing development that, without doubt, affects all of us. You cannot have democracy with this kind of surveillance and without individual privacy.

This provides the legal framework for massive violations of our privacy.

The fact that this is being put through in the wake of the Snowden revelations makes it even more shocking. Publically, France is saying it is shocked and angered by NSA’s spying on French, but behind the scenes the reaction has been to increase its own surveillance.

It appears the actions of the US have given the French government a sense of legitimacy in carrying out the same level of surveillance. Perhaps they just want to legalize what they're already doing.

This article [of the bill] has been sneaked through by the French government. It's being rushed through before the end of the year and now only the government can  withdraw it.

We saw it late, and even France’s national authority for protecting internet freedoms didn't discover it until late on.

The article in question will massively extend the state’s domestic surveillance capabilities.

Sweeping surveillance powers, vague justifications

It’s the type of measure you would expect from a totalitarian state. Authorities will be able to spy on people’s communications without judicial permission being granted and without any real motive.

Such surveillance requests could be issued by a wide variety of departments, including the Ministries of Internal Security and Defense, but also the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

The inclusion of such departments exceeds what is required to meet the stated aim of protecting the citizen against incidents of an exceptional seriousness.

Data collection will not only be done directly by companies providing Internet access (ISPs and telecommunication operators) but also via web-hosting operators and online service providers.

The proposed bill permits these government departments to authorize live surveillance of all citizens with the sole stated aim of “preventing […] crime,” or the particularly vague “safeguard of essential components of the scientific and economic potential of France”.

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They could use this to spy on protesters who are opposed to certain laws, as well as their friends, families, colleagues, and so on. They will be able to collect this data in real time. It’s extremely disturbing.

New bill must be withdrawn, then debated

We need a moratorium now. We need to put all these practices on the table and have a debate that will bring back a bit of legitimacy to politicians who are backing this widespread surveillance.

The government needs to withdraw this right now.

We are trying to quickly raise awareness about it and get people talking about it both inside and outside France. The rest of the world needs to know it is completely unacceptable and the French government must be held accountable.

A vague reference to the needs of security agencies does not justify such serious infringements on our basic liberties.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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