17:09 GMT23 September 2020
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    It's time to pay up. That's the message from one of the French government's major suppliers of electronic surveillance equipment used for monitoring suspected jihadists, following claims the company is owed €8 million (£5.9 million) in unpaid bills.

    The head of electronics company Elektron wrote an open letter to French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, questioning the government's commitment to increasing security and surveillance following recent terror attacks in Paris, citing outstanding bills on bugging and wire-tapping operations.

    Elektron is one of five companies that supply the French government with surveillance equipment, with the company's chairman Michel Besnier saying that Elektron is responsible for 35 per cent of telecommunications intercepts in France.

    In the open letter, Mr. Besnier said he had raised the issue of the unpaid debts with France's Ministry of Justice, claiming that the pressures placed on the company could lead to the "risk of malfunction of our systems."

    He noted that unpaid debts of €8 million placed a considerable strain on his company, whose annual turnover in 2014 was €12 million, while any additional pressures on Elektron may have an adverse impact on the ability of French agencies to monitor suspected jihadist cells.

    The French ministry has hit back at the claims, saying that it was in fact the company's fault for their non-payment, as Elektron had failed to send invoices over the past couple of months.

    Ongoing Dispute

    This latest issue is another in the ongoing dispute between the French government and the country's private surveillance equipment providers, with the contractors unhappy at plans to set up a national surveillance operation, which may force them out of business.

    The government says the new measures will save the country considerable amounts in surveillance spending, however questions have been raised over whether this will compromise the resources and operations of the country's intelligence agencies.

    French soldiers patrol in front of the Eiffel Tower
    © AFP 2020 / BERTRAND GUAY
    Following last month's twin attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices and a kosher shop in Paris, which claimed the lives of 17 innocent people, the French government promised to increase surveillance in order to try and identify potential extremist cells before crimes are committed.

    The new approach to tackling extremism will see prisoners convicted of terror-related offences housed in separate prison departments, as part of a plan to prevent prisoners from becoming radicalised during incarceration.

    This will be combined with the increased use of counsellors and psychologists, who will be tasked with monitoring those suspected of being involved in terrorism or extremist groups.

    France, espionage, Elektron, Manuel Valls
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