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France approves ‘Big Brother’ surveillance law

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French prime minister Manuel Valls Frederic Legrand - COMEO / Shutterstock.com
France has expanded its surveillance capabilities under a new law called Loi Renseignement, or Surveillance Law. The law, proposed after the Charlie Hebdo attack and passed in June, was reviewed and approved by France’s constitutional council today after several minor changes were made.

The controversial law gives French authorities warrantless surveillance powers that have been criticized by the United Nations, Amnesty International, and other human rights organizations. The United Nations Human Rights Committee called the law overly broad in a report on the new legislation, saying it allows for “very intrusive surveillance on the basis of vast and badly defined objectives, without prior authorization of a judge and without adequate and independent controls.”

The law allows French intelligence agencies to arrange wiretaps with phone and Internet companies without first seeking permission from a judge, according to the Guardian. Instead, authorities will be required to consult with an advisory group of French politicians — although they are not required to follow the group’s suggestions as they would a judge’s orders. The bill originally allowed authorities to bypass the advisory group entirely during an emergency, but that privilege was removed by the constitutional council.

The law also allows for cameras and recording devices to be installed in the homes of individuals under investigation, and for keyloggers, which record computer keystrokes, to be installed on their computers.

The constitutional council’s decision was condemned as a “historic decline in fundamental rights” by La Quadrature du Net, a nonprofit organization that defends digital privacy and civil liberties. “By refusing to implement effective control over the intelligence services, it is rubber-stamping a historic step back for privacy and freedom of communication, thus undermining the very foundations of democracy,” the organization said in a statement.

But French prime minister Manuel Valls defended the law in a tweet, claiming, “France now has a security framework against terrorism that respects liberties.” Valls previously said that comparisons of the Surveillance Law to the United States’ Patriot Act were inaccurate, telling the Guardian that the bill was “necessary and proportionate.”

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