The French activist group La Quadrature du Net reports on a recent bill adopted by the French National Assembly, which undermines judicial oversight of police searches, as well as granting the government tremendous power to censor the internet. It passed the national assembly by a large margin, 551 votes to 6. In order to become a law it must still be passed by the Senate. The vote in the Senate was set to occur yesterday, but as of this writing I have no information on whether it has been approved by the Senate.
The primary purpose of the bill is to extend the current state of emergency to last three months rather than 12 days as is normally the case. This alone is enough to concern activists. During the state of emergency, the police are able to carry out administrative searches and seizures, which don’t require any judicial oversight. La Quadrature du Net is highly critical of police usage of administrative searches since the Paris attacks to investigate crimes unrelated to terrorism.
The bill also expands the scope of administrative searches to take into account new developments in technology since the law governing states of emergency was originally passed. Now police can search and seize electronic devices of French resident, to gain access to any data on them. This search authority includes any data stored online which can be accessed through usernames and passwords obtained by police during their investigation.
The bill includes an extension of an existing law, passed after the Charlie Hebdo shooting, which grants the Minister of the Interior the power to censor any site promoting terrorism. The same complaints exist now as did when it was originally passed, the lack of judicial oversight leaves this provision open to abuse by the government, and could be used to censor anti-establishment ideas. Ars Technica reports that an amendment that would make merely visiting a terrorist site a criminal offense was rejected. However, the Prime Minister said legislators will be discussing the matter again, and they may still have plans for a law along those lines.
Some other issues with the bill that were raised by La Quadrature include greatly expanding the ability of police to put people under house arrest if the have “serious reasons to think that their behavior represents a threat for security and public order.” Once again, there is no judicial oversight this is at the discretion of the police. Additionally, the Minister of the Interior can choose the location of the house arrest, which la Quadrature suggests could open the way for internment camps.
One final concern raised, was that the law allows the government to dissolve groups or associations which, “take part in committing acts that seriously endanger the public order or whose activities facilitate or encourage committing such acts.” Due to the recent blitz by politicians and media to present encryption as a threat to public safety, La Quadrature raises the concern that this provision can be used to shut down groups discussing or promoting encryption, not to mention numerous other groups unrelated to terrorism.
Adrienne Charmet, the campaign coordinator for La Quadrature du Net, stated, “The debate and the vote on the state of emergency in the French lower house shows how MPs and the government are in total denial of the current situation. The vote was marked by a relentless will to undermine the rule of law and the balance of powers.” She then went on to conclude, “They believe that creating a police state can create an illusion of security by putting in place, for several months, a police state. In the face of this super fast-tracked adoption,we are left with little more to do than document the disaster, hoping for an awakening.”
Is France finally going to be a terrorist free utopia once this bill is implemented? Leave your comments below.