French Lawmakers Approve Controversial Surveillance Law

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By Jessica Camille Aguirre



PARIS — A divisive surveillance law giving broad powers to French intelligence services in the name of countering domestic terrorist threats passed with overwhelming approval in the country’s lower house of parliament Tuesday.

The bill, which has come under harsh scrutiny by critics saying it gave the government undue power and represented an invasion of privacy, received 438 votes in favor. Only 86 lawmakers cast a vote against the bill, and 42 abstained.

Supporters of the bill, which will now go to the Senate, say it represents an important step toward accounting for new forms of digital communication. Government officials have defended it as a natural update on existing surveillance laws that were conceived before the huge increase of online networking.

But French and international human rights organizations have argued that the legislation poses broad threats to civil liberties and sharply curtails personal freedoms.

The bill comprises measures granting the state power to collect metadata to track suspicious activity online. Metadata does not include the content of online messages, but looks at patterns in contacts, social webs and online behavior to identify suspects.

It also lays out measures for state intelligence services to install electronic monitoring systems for terrorist suspects, including the use of technology that logs keyboard taps in addition to tradition surveillance technology such as cameras.

Government intelligence officials will operate under a special council overseen by the prime minister, according to the legislation. The bill grants authorities the right to use surveillance on people without a judge’s prior approval.

It also includes provisions requiring private companies to collaborate with the state in identifying and turning over data deemed suspicious.

The law was initially conceived ahead of Islamist attacks in Paris that left 20 people dead in January, including three gunmen. But the attacks led politicians to fast-track its approval process.

Recent surveys in France, which has been at a high national security threat level since January, have shown the majority of French people are willing to exchange some personal privacy for the sake of bolstering counterterrorism efforts.


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