Patriot Act à la française: France to legalise unlawful surveillance

By EDRi · March 25, 2015

In recent years, France has increasingly tightened its laws on crimes committed on the Internet. From the LOPPSI law voted in 2012 to the latest anti-terror law voted in November 2014, the bill on Intelligence announced on 19 March by the French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, is fully consistent with a history of repressive Internet legislation.

The LOPPSI law is the keystone of a comprehensive framework of administrative blocking of websites. This law, adopted in 2012, still needed its decree so that websites hosting child pornographic content could be blocked, but the decree was late to be published. Meanwhile, two more laws concerning terrorism and security were adopted: the 2014-2019 Defence Law (Loi de Programmation Militaire) in December 2013 and the latest anti-terror law in November 2014. The first one allow real-time wire tapping of phone calls without the need of a judicial authorisation and the retention of metadata of any type of terminals. The anti-terror law allows administrative blocking of websites considered as condoning to violent acts of terrorism.

Those three laws have already sparkled a great deal of criticism among civil society and private actors for being too repressive and destroying the balance of powers, a pillar of every democratic regime, by weakening the role of the judiciary with regard to surveillance. Also the measures were attacked on the basis that they can be easily bypassed.

After the tragic events in Paris in January 2015, Manuel Valls announced a new law on Intelligence, while French people were gathering around the democratic values of French Republic to stand against terror. At the same time, the processes of the publication of the LOPPSI and the anti-terror decrees were accelerated, resulting in their publication in late February 2015, and allowing administrative blocking of website without the intervention of a judge. The failure to differentiate information, and thus free speech, from propaganda in the blocking orders demonstrated the importance of a judge in the decision-making process for blocking websites. Restricting free speech is so important that it demands a fair and transparent process.

Unsurprisingly, the Bill on Intelligence presented in the Council of Ministers on 19 March 2015 goes further in the logic of weakening the judicial control, and formally permits a number of previously illegal practices used by the Intelligence services. Among the measures presented in the bill are IMSI-catchers, geolocalisation of cars, wiretapping of private places and vehicles, requests to access networks of private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and more disturbingly, if possible, black boxes put on the network in order to guess at the identity of terrorists through a matching algorithm. All of those would be allowed without any judicial authorisation. There would be a possibility for a “a posteriori” control – a measure that can be considered too weak as a guarantee for human rights, privacy and democracy, comparing to the scope of intrusion.

The announcement of this bill was welcomed by heavy criticism by a large number associations defending civil liberties, as well as by private companies. The bill is widely considered to legalise mass-surveillance and constitute a French Patriot Act. It will be studied in April by the French Parliament. La Quadrature du Net, a French organisation promoting digital rights, will campaign to communicate to French parliamentiarians and citizens, that after Snowden’s revelations this type of state-organised mass-surveillance is unacceptable for a democracy.

Intelligence reform & the French government’s disastrous drift on surveillance (17.03.2015)

Intelligence law: The black box reveals its shadows (only in French, 20.03.2015) blocked without court order for endorsing or inciting to terrorism (only in French, 16.03.2015)

France pushes for scrubbing Internet of terrorism-related content (19.01.2015)

The lonely battle of the opponents of the bill on Intelligence (only in French, 23.03.2015)

(Contribution by Christopher Talib, La Quadrature du Net, France)