Written by Hilary Barnes
It is a truth universally acknowledged that when governments are presented with the technology to snoop on their subjects they will always find good reasons for using it.
However, it is no doubt a coincidence that on November 29 France’s National Assembly approved two bills with a liberticide tendency, the first to extend the powers of the government to spy on its citizens, the second to impose a fine on anyone paying for sex with a prostitute.
It may be tendentious to say so, but the first neatly reinforces the second. The power to snoop will be permitted by administrative order, which is to say without the prior approval of a judge or judicial authority, and from snooping for the purpose of preventing terrorist activities, it will be extended to the prevention of criminality in general.
The proposed law includes giving the authorities real-time access to Internet-users’ data and geolocation of mobile phone traffic, as well as to monitor email and telephone communications. These powers will now go to the ministries of defence, interior, budget and finance.
No one doubts that these powers may prove useful when tracking down persons suspected of having committed terrorist acts or planning to do so, not to mention money laundering and tax fraud.
And the French have no need to worry. They have been reassured that a qualified person, appointed by the prime minister, will deal with requests from these ministries to use the new surveillance powers.
Of course, neither the prime minister nor the person he appoints could ever be suspected of abusing these powers for, let’s say, political advantage, now could they?
For example, these powers could be so useful for tracking down the movements, payments, and exchange of telephone calls and emails of any persons objectionable to the government who are suspected of paying for sexual favours!
L’Association des Services Internet Communautaires (ASIC), the French association of Internet service providers, whose members include companies such as Google and Facebook, has called on the government to impose a moratorium of the implementation of the new legislation. ASIC also reminds the Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault of a statement he made on October 23:
“Security is a necessity, but it must not be guaranteed at any price; it should not constrain either the freedom or the privacy of the individual. This is the position of France!
“La sécurité est une exigence, mais elle ne doit pas être garantie à n’importe quel prix ; elle ne doit porter atteinte ni aux libertés ni à la vie privée. Telle est la position de la France !”
And another by President Francous Hollande on October 25:
“I do not wish that one should allow, finally, that the practice of (surveillance) should become general. Hence, the legalities must be respected.”
( “Je ne voudrais pas qu’on laisse penser que, finalement, cette pratique de (surveillance) serait générale. Donc, il y a un cadre légal, il doit être respecté.”)
ASIC notes that surveillance concerned with terrorism is an exception from normal law.
The new legislation will
- extend the exceptions to crime and all forms of organised delinquency,
- empower agents of the ministries to which these powers are extended to obtain the Internet addresses and IP identification of all Internet users, and
- to demand real time access to servers – and in all these cases without having to seek the authorisation of a judge.
Given the lack of public knowledge of the extent of existing surveillance and the public concern about these issues, ASIC says that
“it is inconceivable that the French government should set out on an unrestrained and generalised regime of exceptions (to normal law) by numerous administrations to gain access in real time to the data of Internet users” (your blogger’s translation from the French).
ASIC also calls for a complete audit of the existing laws on surveillance and the manner in which this law is put into practise and the respect shown for the liberty of the individual.