France unveils spying rules after terror attacks

France has never faced so great a terrorist threat, its prime minister said Thursday, as he unveiled controversial new laws allowing spies to hoover up phone and Internet data from suspected jihadists.

France unveils spying rules after terror attacks
France will boost its snooping powers as part of its war on terrorism. Photo: ep_jhu/Flickr
The measures have been criticised by rights groups and set the government up for potential clashes with Internet companies who are under public pressure to ensure privacy.
But in the wake of the deadly jihadist attacks in Paris in January, and coming a day after the Tunisian museum shootings that killed 21 people including two French tourists, the government said the measures were vital for effective policing.
"There cannot be a lawless zone in the digital space," said Prime Minister Manuel Valls.
"Because we often cannot predict the threat, the services must have the power to react quickly."
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.
Valls sought to allay fears that the law was a French version of the "Patriot Act", which the United States used to authorise blanket spying powers after the attacks there on September 11, 2001.
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.
"It in no way allows a generalised surveillance of citizens," said Valls.
– 'Need more investigators' –
France is one of the last Western countries to pass comprehensive legislation governing modern surveillance — having till now relied on a law passed in the pre-Internet days of 1991.
Louis Caprioli, former counter-terrorism head at French intelligence agency DST, said he thought the measures were "proportionate" and that the judiciary had always worked closely with the intelligence services to ensure rights are protected.
But he said surveillance alone would not be enough to meet the threat.
"We need sufficient human resources and currently they are clearly insufficient," said Caprioli.
"We've added some technicians — that's a good thing — but we also need many more investigators on the ground."
However, the bill has attracted criticism from lawyers, civil rights activists and industry experts.
The National Digital Council, a consultative body, took aim at the plans to sweep up huge amounts of metadata using automated systems.
"This approach has proved extremely inefficient in the United States despite astronomical costs," said Tristan Nitot, a member of the council.
The bill's presentation also coincided with criticism from Europe's top rights body over France's recent decision to block websites accused of condoning terrorism, warning that restricting liberties to fight extremism was a "serious mistake".
Despite the criticisms, polls show that the French public want to step up surveillance in the wake of the January attacks in and around Paris that  shook the country and left 17 dead.
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.

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US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.