[ForeignPolicy] Le Petit Problème With France's New Big Brother
Can French intelligence agencies handle the terabytes of data that they just got permission to collect? [...]
The bill approved by a vote of 438 to 86, with 42 abstentions, has been intensely criticized by civil society groups and privacy activists for its embrace of mass surveillance in the form of what the French government calls “black boxes,” devices that will be installed on the servers of French Internet service providers to suck up data and spot terrorists engaging in suspicious behavior that might tip investigators to a possible attack. [...]
Given the vast expansion of surveillance, civil liberty activists are up in arms that the measure will undermine democratic norms. Félix Tréguer, a founding member of digital rights group La Quadrature du Net, said the bill “effectively legalizes mechanisms of mass surveillance” while at the same time failing to include the oversight mechanisms necessary to make the legal regime governing surveillance take into account human rights concerns or transparency. [...]
On this, French judges agree with rights activists. “This bill is unbalanced; it goes too far with no proper controls in place since most of the power will lie with the prime minister,” the judges’ union said in a statement. In stripping the bill of oversight powers while drafting it, Benichou said, French legislators had acted as if they were afraid of the judiciary.
For these reasons, the bill has often been described as the French version of the U.S. Patriot Act. And on many levels, that’s an appropriate analogy. Like its American counterpart passed in the panic of the 9/11 attacks and currently up for renewal the measure has been hurried through the legislature, despite its complicated, highly technical nature. “We’re talking about a surveillance program that goes way beyond counterterrorism but is being sold in the context of the trauma of a terrorist attack and justifies extraordinary means and procedures,” Douzet said. “The way it is being sold is very comparable.”