[JURIST] France’s government on Thursday pushed a surveillance bill that would give French intelligence services the authority to monitor metadata. The government’s hope is that such action would prevent an imminent terror attack [AP report]. Parliamentary debate on the bill will begin next month. The measure has been criticized by privacy advocates, the Paris bar association and human rights groups such as Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website], which stated that the bill would lead to “extremely intrusive surveillance practices with no judicial preauthorization.” If the bill passes, communications firms would be forced to give intelligence services access to connection data of people suspected of terrorist group involvement. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls clarified: “These are legal tools, but not tools of exception, nor of generalized surveillance of citizens. There will not be a French Patriot Act.” The measure aims to give French intelligence services a legal framework to use high-technology tools such as location trackers for cars or devices that intercept mobile phones. France’s previous surveillance law was passed in 1991, before much of today’s mobile and internet technology.
Government surveillance policies have been hotly debated recently. Much of the focus comes as a result of revelations [JURIST backgrounder] by former US National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] contractor Edward Snowden [JURIST news archive], who allegedly leaked classified documents, including PRISM and UPSTREAM, in 2013, exposing the scope and breadth of NSA surveillance activities. One of the first challenges to NSA activities came in June 2013, when the ACLU filed suit [JURIST report] in federal court just days after Snowden claimed responsibility for the leaks. As the outcry over the revelations began to expand in scope and severity, several other human rights groups decided to sue as well. The following month both the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Electronic Privacy Information Center [advocacy websites] filed suit alleging [JURIST report] similar claims on the behalf of a coalition of 19 separate organizations. Last month a US District Court dismissed [JURIST report] a challenge to NSA warrantless surveillance. Also in February the UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) ruled [JURIST report] that the UK’s mass surveillance of citizens’ Internet use violates human rights law. In July civil liberties groups sued [JURIST report] the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service [official website] known as MI6, alleging that the agency accesses data from undersea cables in violation of the rights to private life and freedom of expression.