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How France plans to boost police powers

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How France plans to boost police powers
Counter-terrorism officers haul away a suspect after a raid in Saint Denis.Photo: AFP
12:50 CET+01:00
The French government is set to present a new bill aimed at extending police powers to help combat terrorism.

The bill, which has been thrashed out in the aftermath of the bloodiest terror attack in France since World War Two, will be presented to the cabinet in the coming days.

While France has been under a state of emergency since the November 13th attacks police have enjoyed greater powers, enabling them to carry out raids and place suspects under house arrest without having to meet the usual legal criteria.

But with the state of emergency due to come to an end in February, the government wants to make sure police still have adequate powers in the fight against terrorism.

Here are the main points of the bill that was leaked this week.

Rules relaxed around police using arms

Police have long claimed for a relaxation of the rules of engagement to be armed. With tensions high among officers, who were targeted in the January terror attacks and police having to make split second decisions over whether to open fire, the government is set to grant them their wish.

The recent case of a man driving his car towards a mosque with the intent of killing soldiers highlights the threat officers and soldiers face. The bill will include a principle that allows officers to use their guns “out of self-defense to neutralise someone who has committed murder and is likely to repeat these crimes.”

Returning Jihadists

The issue of French-born jihadists returning from the Middle East has long troubled the French government. The terror threat they pose is considered to be the greatest danger facing France. Under the new law authorities will have greater powers to place suspects who have returned from Syria and Iraq under supervision, including house arrest “if they are likely to undermine public safety”.

At the moment police authorities believe they don't have enough powers to keep tabs on those returning jihadists who have not been charged with any offense.

These “administrative controls” could be suspended if the individual agrees to undertake a “rehabilitation course” to learn about “citizenship values”.

More searches and more raids

The new bill aims to make it easier for police to carry out searches of a suspect's baggage or cars, when they are in or around “sensitive” buildings or sites.

And when it comes to raids at night, the bill aims to allow permission to be granted in a preliminary hearing by prosecutors rather than having to wait for a judge to give consent.

The new laws will allow police to carry out “preemptive” raids in order “to prevent risk to life.”

Communications intercepts

If the bill is passed then prosecutors and investigative magistrates will have extended powers that will allow them greater leeway in intercepting electronic communications and use new techniques such as an Imsi-Catcher – an eavesdropping device used for intercepting mobile phone traffic.

Protecting witnesses

In order to protect witnesses and encourage more to come forward the government plans to allow testimonies to be recorded on camera and played to courts in certain sensitive trials, to spare them of the trauma and fear of testifying in person.

Trafficking and financing

The French government has long talked of the need to better trace and block the financing of terrorist groups. Tracfin – the anti-money laundering agency at France's ministry of finance will be able to alert banks operations and clients considered a “risk”. Authorities will also be given greater powers to freeze assets.

There will also be a new measure aimed at preventing terrorists from selling on cultural and historic artefacts that have been pillaged from sites in Syria, Iraq or Libya. 

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