France Moves Toward Full-Blown Surveillance State

France is taking steps toward becoming a full-blown surveillance state, voting in favor of a law that would allow police to spy on individuals via their devices....
France Moves Toward Full-Blown Surveillance State
Written by Staff
  • France is taking steps toward becoming a full-blown surveillance state, voting in favor of a law that would allow police to spy on individuals via their devices.

    Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti has led the charge on passage of a law that would give police the authority to activate device cameras, microphones, and GPS to spy on someone suspected of a crime. Privacy and security experts and advocates have sounded the alarm over what is seen as a major threat to civil liberties, especially since encrypted messaging, VPNs, and other security measures would offer no protection.

    Despite the criticism, Dupond-Moretti says the law will only impact “dozens of cases a year,” according to Le Monde. The outlet reports that MPs allied with President Emmanuel Macron added amendments to the law that would limit its application to “when justified by the nature and seriousness of the crime” and “for a strictly proportional duration.” That duration would be limited to six months, and the device access must be approved by a judge.

    Nonetheless, many are unconvinced the law will be applied as conservatively as promised.

    Digital rights organization La Quadrature du Net says the law raises “serious concerns over infringements of fundamental liberties,” including the “right to security, right to a private life and to private correspondence.” The group also says the law represents a “slide into heavy-handed security.”

    Separately, France has also pushed for changes to the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), one that would give member states the ability to use a “national security” exception to surveil journalists and their sources. The provision would provide a way for states to override the protections that journalists currently enjoy under EU law, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF):

    Such safeguards were partly provided for in the initial draft, but have been watered down in the version adopted by the Council. It would allow surveillance of journalists in investigations involving 32 offences punishable by at least three years’ imprisonment (including trafficking in cars or hormonal substances). In the European Commission’s original version, the possibility of such surveillance is limited to investigations involving ten serious categories of crimes, including terrorism, crimes against humanity and child pornography. The intention of member states to effectively protect journalists is therefore seriously in doubt.

    “The inclusion of a general national security exception is at best a blunder and at worst a danger to journalism,” said Christophe Deloire, RSF secretary-general. “It is a blank cheque for unbridled surveillance, a short step from the crudest form of police spying and an open door to abuse. And it is a political mistake, because this blow to the EMFA provides weapons to its detractors. We call on the amendment’s authors to reverse it, and we urge the European Parliament to reject this useless and dangerous provision, which would poison this law from within. That the interior ministries of established democracies could associate themselves with such rogue-state practices represents a grave precedent in the European process. The political responsibility can only fall sooner or later on the sorcerer’s apprentices.

    “We’re far away from the totalitarianism of 1984,” said Dupond-Moretti, referenceing George Orwell’s novel in the context of the French police bill. “People’s lives will be saved.”

    Given how much France is pushing for surveillance on multiple fronts, 1984 may be a bit closer than Dupond-Moretti thinks.

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