Feeding the All-Seeing Spider: France on verge of passing repressive new surveillance bill


On May 5, the French “National Assembly” will vote on a dangerous proposal to reform intelligence services. This week Access joined a coalition led by our friends at La Quadrature du Net along with 18 other organisations to oppose the bill and take action. It’s a “French Patriot Act” in disguise.

What is the intelligence bill?

The proposed intelligence bill, “Projet de loi relatif au renseignement”, would increase France’s surveillance capabilities and expand the power of the Executive Branch at the expense of users’ rights to privacy and freedom of expression.

In particular, the bill would allow intelligences services to:

  • use International Mobile Subscriber Identity catchers “IMSI-catchers”, a tool that “tricks” your mobile device so that you think you’re being connected to a cell phone tower, when in fact your communications are being vacuumed up;
  • force internet providers to install so called “black boxes” that collect massive amounts of data and search for “suspicious patterns”;
  • tap phones and read emails without permission from judges.

The law is broadly and vaguely written, and authorises the use of exceptional surveillance and repression measures for a wide range of purposes, such as anti-terrorism, safeguarding state institutions, or preserving major economic, industrial, or scientific interests.

The bill would also violate key human rights and democratic principles:

There is no separation of powers. The bill gives extensive power to the Executive branch, in particular to the Prime Minister, with little or no judicial oversight. Only a newly proposed administrative council with very limited powers would be tasked to supervise the Prime Minister’s surveillance orders.

There is no effective right to a judicial remedy. The appeal mechanism introduced by the bill requires users to identify that they have been placed under surveillance before being able to challenge an order in court, thus putting the burden of proof on the user.

Where did the bill come from?

The French Government introduced the bill on March 29 through an emergency procedure which enables a single and speedy review by each chamber of the bicameral Parliament. It’s still unclear why the government chose this fast-track process, which removes any possibility of democratic debate on this substantial intelligence reform.

The French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, has spoken of the need to fight “an unprecedented terrorist threat”, but he also acknowledged that this bill would not have prevented the tragic events at Charlie Hebdo. We argued after the tragedy that the French government should not use these attacks as a pretext to extend its surveillance powers. France already expanded its surveillance capacity twice in the 12 months before the tragedy by passing the military programming and anti-terrorism acts.

In the EU, France’s new intelligence bill has not gone unnoticed. Several members of the European Parliament asked the European Commission to look into the bill’s compliance with the EU Treaties and Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Council of Europe also adopted a resolution on March 21 strongly criticizing mass surveillance by national governments, calling on its 47 member states to implement a “code of conduct” for their intelligence services.

What comes next?

The bill will be put to a vote on May 5th at the National Assembly, the lower chamber of Parliament, before being discussed in the Senate. Take action now at sous-surveillance.fr to ask French representatives to reject the bill during the upcoming vote. Email, tweet, and call your local representative to stop this dangerous bill.


Image from La Quadrature du Net