France's New Anti-Terror Bill: All Presumed Terrorist Until Proven Guilty?

Paris, 22 July 2014 — The proposed French anti-terrorism law [fr] presented by Bernard Cazeneuve, Minister of the Interior of the Valls government, was discussed by the committee on legal affairs of the French National Assembly today and will next be discussed in plenary session in September. It introduces deeply anti-democratic measures that presume a person's guilt and attempt to prevent intention rather than actions, bypassing judiciary control in the name of the fight against terrorism.

This new bill institutes a permanent state of emergency on the Internet that allows the judicial system to be largely bypassed and favours instead recourse to police and administrative systems that, besides failing to guarantee fair hearing, are largely disproportionate, ill-equipped and thus ineffective in reaching the stated goal of fighting terrorism. The anti-democratic measures introduced by the bill are based on vague concepts whose application can easily be extended, such as “apologie du terrorisme” (apology of terrorism), and that restrict the right to freedom of movement (art. 1), freedom of the press (art. 4), freedom of information and communication (art. 9), the protection of journalistic sources (art. 11), the right to a fair trial (art. 13) or that are simply disproportionate (art. 12, 14).

These provisions have already drawn significant opposition from associations of legal professionals, freedom of speech and information advocates, human right defenders, as well as several advisory bodies. See for example the Syndicat de la Magistrature's (magistrate union) observations [fr], Reporters Without Borders' press release [fr], the memo [fr] publlished by the CNNum (French Digital Council) and this op-ed [fr] published by some of its members. The French parliament's ad hoc “Digital Committee” also issued [fr] a recommendation critical of the bill to the committee on legal affairs.

“We must not let the French government force on us a repeat of the repressive policies all too common during Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency. We can't allow to be slowly put in place a system that suspects everyone, presumes the guilt of everyone and creates an ‘intention police’ which bypasses judiciary control. Government censorship and attacks on freedom of communication and information cannot be justified by this crass exploitation of fear. The French parliament is risking a lot: should French MPs prove unable to kill or modify the bill, our fundamental rights will be threatened in new and dangerous ways. Will France go the way of the United States and the NSA's indiscriminate mass surveillance, and simply presume that everyone is a potential terrorist? We cannot stand by and let this happen!” declared Jérémie Zimmermann, co-founder of La Quadrature du Net.