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PRIVACY

‘French Snowdens’ to get protection under law

French MPs have voted through a new amendment to the controversial surveillance bill, which would allow whistleblower spies to be protected by law.

'French Snowdens' to get protection under law
Edward Snowden, seen here talking via an online feed, has been in limbo in Moscow ever since his passport was revoked a few years ago. Photo: AFP
The new surveillance laws were presented to parliament on Monday, with Prime Minister Manuel Valls insisting the move was not a snap reaction to the Paris terror attacks in January that left 17 dead. 
 
On Thursday, a "whistleblower" amendment was voted through by MPs, meaning that those working for the intelligence services would be protected by law if they were to report any illegal intelligence gathering to a newly created authority, known as the CNCTR.
 
This would mean that anyone like Edward Snowden, the former spy who famously leaked classified information from America's National Security Agency (NSA), would not be punished for their efforts.
 
Jean-Jacques Urvoas, the Socialist MP who drafted the surveillance bill, said the amendment was inspired by the famed American whistleblower, who has spent the past few years in Moscow after his US passport was revoked.
 
"The Snowden case… has demonstrated the need to create conditions so that agents can denounce any abuse by the intelligence services", Urvoas said on Thursday.
 
(Urvoas announces on Twitter that the National Assembly has adopted his amendment)
 
The entire bill has been hugely controversial in France, with critics saying the proposals will lead to mass surveillance of the French public and an infringement of individuals' privacy.
 
But the government insists the laws are vital for effective policing with France facing, in the words of Valls, its greatest ever terrorist threat.
 
The new law allows authorities to spy on the digital and mobile communications of anyone linked to a "terrorist" investigation 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.
 
 

("I'm being wire tapped" – Civil liberty supporters present on a twist on the famous "Je Suis Charlie" slogan. Photo: AFP)
 

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TERRORISM

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.

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