Mark Collins – Hard-Nosed French “Patriot Act” Cleared by Court

A great many Canadians are shocked and appalled by the government’s new anti-terrorism legislation (Bill C-51, now law); but consider the French–an earlier post,

French Really Up Counterterrorism Laws

and now:

French Constitutional Court Approves New Powers for Intelligence Services
Decision clears final hurdle for a law which was accelerated after January terror spree in Paris

France’s top constitutional court mostly upheld a new French surveillance law that would give intelligence services broad new powers to spy in France and abroad.

The court-backed provisions of the law allow a wide range of new surveillance techniques meant for the Internet age, including the collection of “metadata” about online traffic and the use of software that can monitor every keystroke on a computer. The court said intelligence services can use these tools without approval of a judge, though the government must still seek permission from an independent body created to oversee surveillance activities.

The court, known as the Constitutional Council, did strike down a provision of the law that would allow emergency surveillance without the approval of the prime minister or another minister in the government.

This measure is “evidently a disproportionate violation of the right to respect for private life and the confidentiality of communication,” the council said.

The decision, announced late Thursday, clears the final hurdle for a law that was accelerated this spring in the wake of the January terror spree in Paris that left 17 dead, but has raised alarm bells among technology companies and civil liberties groups, which liken it to a French version of the U.S. Patriot Act.

French officials say they need authorization to use new spy tools, such as fake cellular towers that collect phone information, to counter a growing domestic terror threat posed by groups such as Islamic State. But amid opposition to the law, President François Hollande submitted it to the Constitutional Council for review before enacting it [one cannot see PM Harper doing anything similar these days]…

Technology and telecom firms have in particular bristled at a provision in the law that could require them to install equipment—which in the debate have been called “black boxes”—that would comb Internet traffic for signs of terrorist activity. Opponents say such algorithmic detection amounts to mass surveillance, a contention French government officials deny…

In addition to the “black box” provision, the court approved other elements of the law that had been opposed by some legislators and civil liberties groups, such as one that allows intelligence services to obtain from telecommunications companies real-time access to Internet connection data of suspected terrorists. The court also endorsed new powers for intelligence services to bug suspects’ cars and homes to collect images, sound and data.

Another point of contention is the use of devices to spoof cellphone towers, which can be used to track targets and their associates. But such devices can scoop up information on otherwise innocent people nearby…

Back to Canada–earlier:

Terrorism, Intelligence and Bill C-51: “The Fight Over Canada’s Patriot Act”

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


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