Sunday

25th Jul 2021

French court backs mass surveillance

  • France's new surveillance act gives the prime minister's office unprecedented powers without judicial oversight (Photo: Moyan Brenn)

The constitutional court in France on Thursday (23 July) broadly approved a new law that gives the state wide-sweeping surveillance powers.

First proposed in March in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, the Surveillance Act allows French intelligence agencies to spy on citizens with almost complete impunity.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

“From now on, France has a security framework against terrorism that respects liberties. It's decisive progress”, said French prime minister Manuel Valls in a tweet.

Dubbed by opponents as the French Big Brother, the act empowers intelligence agencies - under the authority of the prime minister’s office - to monitor anyone.

Security officials will be able to hack people’s computers as a last resort.

They will be able to use a so-called “IMSI Catcher”, which picks up and records all text messages, phone calls, and Internet communication in a given area. This includes people not suspected of any crime.

Wireless phone taps, hidden cameras and microphones, and forcing Internet providers to monitor suspicious behaviour using special "black boxes" are also in store.

A warrant or any other type of court approval is not needed.

A dedicated special advisory group made up of magistrates, MPs, and senators will instead be consulted.

But the group, named the National Commission for the Control of Intelligence Techniques, can only issue non-binding recommendations.

The French constitutional court, for its part, opposed an article that would have allowed authorities to skip the advisory group in emergency situations.

The court described the article as “manifestly disproportionate to the right to privacy”.

Another setting up an international surveillance scheme was also rejected because the conditions for its use were not well enough defined.

A third, more minor, article dealt with how the advisory group would be funded.

Despite opposition from rights groups and a petition signed by over 100,000 people, MPs passed the bill into law in late June anyway.

French president Francois Hollande then asked the constitutional court to review it.

The act has drawn parallels to the bulk collection of telephone records by the US National Security Agency.

Rights groups in France complain it undermines fundamental rights, widens the scope of extra-judicial surveillance, and lacks any real oversight.

They say stripping away standard judicial oversight opens the door for abuse by the state and may undermine the confidentiality of sources used by journalists and human rights groups.

French advocacy rights group, La Quadrature du Net, also said it is ready to challenge the act at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

"Mass surveillance is part of an intolerable and oppressive machine, which is by nature the seed of totalitarianism”, said Jeremie Zimmermann, co-founder of the group.

Frontex chief: 'about time' MEPs probe his agency

Some 14 MEPs have created a group to probe allegations of rights abuse by the EU's border agency Frontex. Its head, Fabrice Leggeri, welcomed its creation and said it "is about time".

Romania denies forcing migrant-boat back to Turkish waters

Romania's ministry of internal affairs wrote to Frontex claiming it did not engage in any illegal pushbacks of people on rubber boats into Turkish territorial waters. The country says it followed EU engagement rules and Greek orders.

News in Brief

  1. Macron changes phone after Pegasus spyware revelations
  2. Italy to impose 'vaccinated-only' entry on indoor entertainment
  3. EU 'will not renegotiate' Irish protocol
  4. Brussels migrants end hunger strike
  5. Elderly EU nationals in UK-status limbo after missed deadline
  6. WHO: 11bn doses needed to reach global vaccination target
  7. EU to share 200m Covid vaccine doses by end of 2021
  8. Spain ends outdoor mask-wearing despite surge

Feature

Covid-hit homeless find Xmas relief at Brussels food centre

The Kamiano food distribution centre in Brussels is expecting 20 people every half hour on Christmas Day. For many, Kamiano is also more than that - a support system for those made homeless or impoverished.

Top court finds Hungary and Poland broke EU rules

EU tribunal said Hungary's legislation made it "virtually impossible" to make an asylum application. Restricting access to international protection procedure is a violation of EU rules.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. Far left and right MEPs less critical of China and Russia
  2. Why is offshore wind the 'Cinderella' of EU climate policy?
  3. Open letter from 30 embassies ahead of Budapest Pride
  4. Orbán counters EU by calling referendum on anti-LGBTI law
  5. Why aren't EU's CSDP missions working?
  6. Romania most keen to join eurozone
  7. Slovenia risks court over EU anti-graft office
  8. Sweden's gang and gun violence sets politicians bickering

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us