Looking back through the French anti-terror arsenal

By EDRi · May 18, 2016

Following the publication of the Action Plan Against Terrorism and Radicalisation by the French Government, summarising the whole anti-terror strategy of France, built up law by law during the past years, it is important to look back on the main measures presented in this report, especially those affecting civil rights and liberties on the Internet.

In the last two years, France adopted several laws aimed at reinforcing anti-terror measures that include access to connection data without judicial intervention (Defence Law of 2013), administrative blocking of websites, more strict sentences in some cases if an offence is committed online, remote computer searches (anti-terror law of 2014), mass surveillance (see French’s surveillance law of 2015) that includes international communications as well (International Surveillance Law 2015), and a reinforcement of some of those measures after the declaration of the State of Emergency following the Paris attacks on 13 November 2015.

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New measures affecting our rights are planned, such as those included in the currently-debated “Digital Republic Bill”. It includes plans for the involvement of the “actors of the Internet” (such as intermediaries and platforms) in the fight against online terrorist propaganda and by promoting “counter-speech”.

In addition, the bill reforming the French Criminal Justice system extends the scope of the State of Emergency, broadly anchoring it in law. This bill criminalises the “frequent consultation of terrorist websites”. It also reinforces measures on the administrative blocking of the websites, inserting a new obstruction offence to block terrorists websites. This bill jeopardises the balance of power mostly between the Judicial and the Executive power. Without drawing any constructive conclusions from the tragic events of November 2015, this bill is the proof of a dramatic headlong rush by the French Government.

On 17 May, an amendment tabled by the right-wing Member of Parliament (MP) Éric Ciotti to the new bill for a “21st Century Justice”, suggests to link video surveillance and facial recognition in public spaces.

The measures regarding civil rights and liberties on the Internet seriously infringe our online privacy and the right of information, while undermining the oversight of judges ex ante. Most of these measures are taken by administrative authorities. Therefore, they don’t require a judge to conduct a legal assessment about the actions to be taken. What is more, these laws undermine the role of the so-called “investigating magistrate”, the French independent judge who leads the investigation phase for the prosecutor of the French Republic and the judge of liberties and detention, who are less independent and have a less technical knowledge of the cases.

On the other hand, the question of encryption is being addressed with an aggressive stand to infringe citizens’ online privacy and security. It seems clearer everyday that the aim of the French Government is to carry out an offensive political agenda regarding civil rights online.

French civil rights organisation La Quadrature du Net is working hard to raise awareness of the dangers of these laws approved, and will keep challenging them using any legal means available before the French courts (the Council of State and Constitutional Council) and also European courts (the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights).

It is of utmost importance to understand the whole repressive architecture of those laws that go far beyond the “fight against terrorism” in order to challenge them. France is currently pushing those same measures in the Directive on combating terrorism, being currently discussed by the European Parliament. There is an urgent need to stop these dangerous provisions before they become binding for all Member States, and not to give in to fear but protect our values, our rights and liberties. The promotion of free software, end-to-end encryption of communications and decentralised solutions for citizens has never been as important as today, to counter mass surveillance from public and private actors.

Action Plan Against Terrorism and Radicalisation (only in French, 09.05.2016)

EDRi: EDRi’s recommendations for the European Parliament’s Draft Report on the Directive on Combating Terrorism (29.03.2016)

EDRi: Countering terrorism, a.k.a. the biggest human rights threat of 2016 (20.04.2016)

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