France’s Highest Court Upholds Country’s Expansion Of Spy Powers

CREDIT: ALAIN JOCARD/POOL PHOTO VIA AP
CREDIT: ALAIN JOCARD/POOL PHOTO VIA AP

France’s highest court upheld a new national intelligence bill that would give the government unprecedented spying power — including NSA-style metadata collection — at home and internationally.

The Constitutional Council upheld several provisions in a bill passed in May that aimed at increasing digital intelligence gathering, particularly telephone metadata collection, online traffic surveillance, monitoring calls and emails of suspected terrorists, and spyware that allows the government to monitor real-time computer behavior, the Wall Street Journal reported.

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The council rejected a few provisions, one of which would have permitted unauthorized surveillance requests in emergencies without approval from a government minister. Another struck-down provision would have allowed the government to intercept communications sent or received overseas.

Since the 2013 revelations from former agency contractor Edward Snowden, Europe has been intensely critical of U.S. spying practices and seeming disregard for Europeans’ privacy. The bill’s components ring similar to the U.S. Patriot Act, which authorized in part the National Security Agency’s (NSA) widespread metadata collection. The new law, which was drafted in response to terrorism like the Charlie Hebdo attack earlier this year, goes against Europe’s strict adherence to privacy but also represents an effort to increase surveillance capabilities to match that of the U.S.

Documents leaked in June prove the NSA spied on the private communications of three French presidents from 2006 to 2012. French President François Hollande said in response to the leaks, which were part of Snowden’s revelations, “France will not tolerate actions that threaten its security and the protection of its interests.”

Europe has also scrutinized its relationship with American businesses and their privacy practices, making it particularly difficult for tech companies such as Facebook and Google that are a part of the NSA and other U.S. intelligence agencies’ surveillance programs. For example, Germany announced plans to end its contract with U.S. wireless carrier Verizon last year because of its legal requirements to fulfill NSA data information requests.

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But France’s decision to expand its surveillance program has been criticized for undermining the very privacy Europe as a whole is trying to protect.

“Black boxes and algorithms will create permanent surveillance,” Communist party member Sen. Cécile Cukierman said during a June debate over the bill.