12 December 2013, 15:42

France steps up net surveillance weeks after protesting against NSA spying

France steps up net surveillance weeks after protesting against NSA spying

The French government has adopted a bill allowing the authorities to access and gather internet user data in real time without judicial approval. The senate approved the legislation just weeks after France expressed outrage at NSA spying practices. The bill has been slammed by activists as going "against the principles of democracy".

The measures, given final parliamentary approval by the senate on Tuesday night, extend authority to gather digital information, previously limited to intelligence agencies, to the defense, interior, finance and budget ministries.

The law gives French intelligence services access to telephone and Internet usage data that would let them locate and follow the target of a terrorism investigation in real time. In addition, the law provides agents with access not just to meta data about users from website hosts but allows them to seize content stored on websites and in clouds. It also provides for access in real time to the location of mobile devices.

Apart from terrorism, information can be sought on the grounds of national security, organized crime and the protection of national economic and scientific interests.

The information can be demanded without the prior approval of a judge, as previously required but there will be post-facto monitoring by national oversight bodies. Currently in France, authorities are required to apply for a warrant to access this information, a process that usually takes several months.

The spying clause, part of a new military programming law, comes just weeks after France, which considers individual privacy a pillar of human rights, expressed outrage at revelations that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had been conducting mass surveillance of European citizens, including in France. The president, François Hollande, expressed his "extreme reprobation".

He complained to President Barack Obama and backed moves to establish a code of conduct between allies on digital and other intelligence gathering.

As well as being a victim of the NSA’s spying programs, the French government also collaborated with the American spy agency, handing over data gathered abroad. Whistleblower Edward Snowden’s leaks revealed that the NSA had gathered unprecedented amounts of metadata in France, recording around 70 million phone calls between December 2012 and January 2013.

With the new law though, France is now a source of concern over governments prying deeply into private lives in their fight against terrorism and organized crime.

ASIC, a Paris-based association that groups web players operating in France such as Facebook and Google, said the law "weakened the sector and raised many questions in terms of protection of freedoms".

"There is no doubt that this bill will weaken the French position in the European and international debate on the protection of personal data," it added.

The association has called on lawmakers opposed to the bill to take the matter to the Constitutional Council, France's top court.

Voice of Russia, The Guardian, Times Colonist, AFP

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