French surveillance bill pushed ahead despite massive criticism

By EDRi · April 22, 2015

On 19 March 2015, France proposed a new bill that would allow intelligence services to collect vast amounts of data, to tap phones and emails without permission from judges.

  • The scope of application of the draft bill is extremely broad and covers the following ill-defined areas:
  • National independence, territorial integrity and national defence
  • Foreign policy and prevention of all forms of foreign interference
  • Important French economic, industrial and scientific interests
  • Prevention of terrorism
  • Prevention of harm to the republican institutions and prevention of collective violence threatening the national security
  • Prevention of organised crime
  • Prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction

One of the most worrying aspects of the bill are the provisions empowering French intelligence services to install mass monitoring technologies onto Internet Service Providers’ networks and server infrastructures. Such equipment would allow French spies to scan the traffic of all internet users and then use algorithms to search for patterns in the name of detecting terrorist threats. The bill grants unprecedented powers to the Prime Minister, who would become head of the intelligence services. While the bill creates a new oversight agency, its a priori control will only consist in issuing recommendations that the Prime minister can choose to ignore.

In many respects, the French bill is directly inspired by by British and US laws and hence the practices of the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). For instance, the provision on “international surveillance” echoes section 702 of the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA).

According to the bill, data collected would be stored indefinitely until they are processed, analysed and used by the agencies. The bill also gives intelligence services total immunity for conducting hacking operations and attacks carried out beyond the French borders. Finally, the bill circumvents fair trial guarantees for legal challenges brought against mass surveillance, drawing inspiration from the much-criticised “Closed-Material-Procedures” established in the UK through the Justice and Security Act of 2013. This would create special procedures with closed-door hearings undermining the rights of the defence.

Despite massive opposition by civil society, human rights NGOs, jugdes, lawyers unions, the industry and many others, the government of Prime Minister Manuel Valls wants to pass the law through a fast-track procedure. The final vote in the National Assembly will take place on 5 May.

The Verge: France wants to fight terrorism by spying on everyone (17.04.2015)

La Quadrature du Net: Unacceptable Surveillance of French Citizens soon to be Adopted! (17.04.2015)

La Quadrature du Net: French Intelligence Bill: French President Hollande to shut down public debate (20.04.2015)

(Contribution by La Quadrature du Net, France)