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The Big Picture – France Spy Bill: Legalising mass surveillance?

The Big Picture – France Spy Bill: Legalising mass surveillance?



New Surveillance and Intelligence law has been passed in France in the wake of Charlie Hebdo attack. The ramifications of this law are huge. The new law will allow the authorities to spy on digital mobile phone communications of anyone linked to terrorist enquiry without a prior authorisation from a judge. It forces internet service providers and phone companies to give up data on request. Intelligence agencies will have the right to place cameras and recording devices in private homes and install key logger devices that record every key stroke on a targeted computer in real time. The authorities will be able to keep the recordings for a month and meta data, gathered from internet users, for over 5 years. This move might inspire other countries to put such laws in place.

France is still on high alert as it has received repeated threats from jihadist groups. The government says the law is needed to take account of changes in communications technology. The government says it wants to bring modern surveillance techniques within the law rather than outside any system of control. A new watchdog will oversee the intelligence services, which will have broader powers to look at classified material and handle complaints from the public. But none of this has satisfied the critics, who range from civil liberties groups to major internet providers. Critics say it is a dangerous extension of mass surveillance. They argue that it gives too much power to the state and threatens the independence of the digital economy.

And this amounts to a mass intrusion of privacy, which in the hands of an unscrupulous government could have worrying consequences. Some citizens say that France is a country that already has a very powerful executive branch, and this law will erode balance of power even further. There is no judicial oversight and everyone can be threatened as a potential danger. The French National Digital Council, an independent advisory body, has also expressed its opposition to the law. Human rights groups argue that this law jeopardizes the right to privacy and a greater judicial control needs to be applied to the intelligence agencies.

The most controversial of the bill’s proposals are so-called “black boxes” — or complex algorithms — that Internet providers will be forced to install to flag-up a succession of suspect behaviours online such as what keywords someone types, what sites they consult and who they contact and when. Despite criticism from rights groups that the law is vague and intrusive, the measures enjoy the support of France’s two main political parties.