Saturday

24th Oct 2020

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.

Spain's Sanchez in storm over judicial appointments bill

Spain's socialist-led coalition has proposed changing how members of the country's top judicial body, the General Council of the Judiciary, are appointed - triggering a political and judicial storm about the independence, and drawing 'double standards' complaints from Poland.

News in Brief

  1. UK scientists fear Brexit blow to joint EU research
  2. Greek migrant camp lockdown extended
  3. Lukashenko and 14 others in EU crosshairs
  4. EU imposes sanctions over 2015 Bundestag cyberattack
  5. Italy reignites Mont Blanc border dispute with France
  6. Commission to press Croatia on migrant 'abuse' at border
  7. Belarus opposition awarded 2020 Sakharov Prize
  8. Belgium's foreign minister in intensive care for Covid-19

Corruption failures also highlighted in rule of law report

The European Commission's first report on the rule of law has raised concerns over the lack of effective anti-corruption efforts in some members sates - while it considers Denmark, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands have good governance measures.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  3. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  6. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity

Latest News

  1. South Caucasus death toll much worse than feared
  2. Polish court effectively bans legal abortions
  3. MEPs urge EU to be ready to dump disputed energy treaty
  4. EU commission on defensive over 'revolving doors'
  5. Why German presidency is wrong on rule of law
  6. Nato and EU silent on Turkey, despite Armenia's appeal
  7. EU tells UK to decide on Brexit as deal 'within reach'
  8. EU farming deal attacked by Green groups

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us