Wednesday, December 11, 2013

France: New Law Authorizes French Government to Monitor Internet Users, Tips for Internet Users

According to The Guardian, French President François Hollande expressed "extreme reprobation" at revelations that the NSA had intercepted phone calls in France.

Yet, ironically, French intelligence and government officials will be able to spy on internet users in real time and without authorization, under a law passed on Wednesday (December 11).

The legislation, which was approved with little publicity or fanfare, will enable a wide range of public officials including police, gendarmes, intelligence and anti-terrorist agencies as well as several government ministries to monitor computer, electronic tablet and smart-phone use without restriction.

The spying clause, part of a new military programming law, comes just weeks after France, which considers individual privacy the foundation of human rights, expressed outrage at revelations that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had been intercepting phone calls in France.

Article 13 of the new law will allow not just the security forces but intelligence services from the defense, interior, economy and budget ministries to see "electronic and digital communications" in real time to discover who is connected to whom, what they are communicating and where they are.

COMMENT: Despite concerns over the infringement of personal liberties, and the possibility of abuse of the blanket justification for snooping for the "prevention of crime," the military programming law cleared its final hurdle on Wednesday after members of the Sénat, the upper house of Parliament, voted 164 to 146. The bill was earlier approved in the lower house, the Assemblée Nationale, by a similar majority.

An amendment rejecting article 13, tabled by senators from the Ecology party, was thrown out.

Government officials say the measure is necessary to combat terrorism, organized crime and economic or scientific espionage and to protect national security. The defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, insisted "public liberties will be covered" in the new law, although they were not specified.

Until now, demands for phone taps or data intercepts had to be authorized by a judge of the National Commission for the Control of Security Intercepts.

The government says the spying will be overseen by an "independent authority and by Parliament," yet technology firms belonging to the Association of Internet Services Communities (@SIC), including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Skype and AOL, have criticized the scale of the proposed snooping.

In a public statement, @SIC expressed concern that the new law was an opening up of previously controlled "exceptional" security measures used to fight terrorism and crime, and allowed officials to tap into data under the blanket "prevention of crime" clause in the bill.

It said even now there is no "clear picture" as to how surveillance how of internet users was being conducted in France, nor on the amount of demands [for surveillance] made each year.

@SIC It also criticized the "in-action" of the Commission Nationale de l'Informatique and Liberties. CNIL says while it was asked to urgently report on other elements of the legislation, it was "not consulted" on article 13, but was reassured that there would be safeguards.

Opponents are considering whether to refer the legislation to the constitutional court, France's highest legal authority, over the question of public freedom.

Loïc Riviere, Secretary General of the French Association of Software and Internet Solutions Editors (AFDEL), which represents 350 French software and internet companies said: "We understand the need to fight the explosion of cyber-criminality and we're certainly not against those trying to ensure national security, but this [law] is not legally clear and is [worrisome].

Riviere added that the law was doubly worrisome for his association's members.

In the coming weeks, I will be offering our readers detailed guidance in how they can take steps to reduce their risk of government eavesdropping efforts.