France's 3-month state of emergency lets govt censor the web

Constitutional amendment has already passed lower lawmakers

Following last week's Paris attacks, the French National Assembly has today voted to extend the nation's state of emergency for a further three months. It will also amend powers established in the original 1955 legislation in light of technological developments.

Despite the murders of 129 victims, and the deaths of the seven terrorists, the state of emergency bill has alarmed civil liberties campaigners, who are concerned about several measures they deem "authoritarian", particularly the expansive powers police have been granted to conduct computer searches, net censorship, and curtail the freedom of association.

The bill passed through the lower parliamentary house in France this morning with a vote of 551-6. It will be read by the Senate tomorrow, and if it passes would be adopted on Friday afternoon. It is the first ever amendment of the 1955 act.

Before the vote, Prime Minster Manuel Valls warned the National Assembly of the dangers the nation faced from terrorists, stating that "there could also be a risk of chemical or biological weapons".

Valls also announced that the ring-leader of the latest Paris attacks had been killed in a pre-dawn raid, while adding that €400m had been earmarked to further fund the nation's state of emergency crackdown.

While extending the emergency to three months, the bill will also extend new powers to the police, ostensibly for preventing terrorism through increasing the legal room available for them to make searches and seizures, as well the ability to place citizens under house arrest.

French advocacy group La Quadrature du Net described the extension as "unjustified" by any reason "other than to circumvent the principle of separation of powers. Since the beginning of the emergency last Saturday, many searches are conducted for administrative cases under common law, with no connection to the fight against terrorism, and foreshadow a police state that the extension of three months the risk of trivialising".

French security forces have conducted over 400 raids since last Friday's terrorist attacks, and have made 60 arrests.

Earlier this year, a BBC journalist's laptop was seized by police in the UK under counter-terror legislation. La Quadrature welcomed a modification in the bill which protects journalists from such seizures during the state of emergency.

Their equipment is not protected if it is used at home, however, as the bill extends the police's administrative search powers to searching data processing systems. Le Quadrature stated these searches "can happen on any equipment, including storage present on the place or reachable 'through a initial system or available for the initial system'."

La Quadrature spokesperson Adrienne Charmet told The Register: "We are hoping certain provisions, especially those allowing the Minister of the Interior to censor websites, are not included in the bill when it passes through the Senate."

The principle behind a state of emergency is to make a police state. It is to transfer justice to the police – La Quadrature du Net

"We are particularly concerned with the police ability to restrict the freedom of association on security ground. If we invite people to a cryptoparty and the police believe cryptography is a security threat then they could force us to disband," added Charmet. "Of course we hope it wouldn't be used against us, but there is no protection in the law."

"Despite the recent surveillance law passed in France, these attacks happened. We don't accept that the population must remain under mass surveillance while terrorists are not being placed under targeted surveillance," said Charmet. "The principle behind a state of emergency is to make a police state," she explained. "It is to transfer justice to the police."

La Quadrature du Net will be calling on citizens to encourage members of the Assembly to launch an inquiry to whether surveillance legislation is fit for duty, following the attacks of last Friday. ®

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