French State of Emergency: Overbidding Mass Surveillance
July 2016 by La Quadrature du Net
Once again. The French State of Emergency has been extended until January. In reaction to violence shaking the country and with the presidential election of 2017 only a few months away, political leaders are indulging an ignominious orgy of security-driven policy. Not content with prolonging the state of emergency, they have also modified the Surveillance Law passed last year to extend, once again, mass surveillance.
It is hard to believe that only 48 hours have passed since the bill was sent to the French National Assembly. With incredible speed, in the middle of summer, the Law Committee of the Senate has given carte blanche to rapporteur Michel Mercier (UDI - centre-right wing and former Minister of Justice) to erase so-called "rigidities" in the Surveillance Law, last year.
The provision, much criticised during the parliamentary debates at that time, provides for real-time scanning the connection data of individuals suspected of terrorist activities.
As soon as of the November attacks, with ink on the Surveillance Law not yet dry, an official for the Ministry of Interior was explaining that with lightened control procedures, "by cross-referencing data with an already-known very powerful algorithm, we could be able to monitor those 11 700 persons in real time"1. Then, again according to Le Monde, during the previous National Council of Intelligence last January, the decision was taken to "put under surveillance all the communication data of the 11 700 persons with a S-File linked with radical islamism". Until now, this form of surveillance targeted only individuals who had been "identified as a [terrorist] threat". But now, in accordance with this amendment, the code of national security stipulates that an individual has to merely be identified as "potentially related to a threat" or to belong to "the entourage" of individuals "potentially...", to have his or her traffic data analysed in real time, for four months, by intelligence services.
Despite the vagueness of the terms, it is fairly clear that several dozens, hundreds or even thousands of persons are directly concerned here — not only the 11 700 individuals who are already identified as "S". This severe extension of the field covered by this disposition is all the more shocking that in late May, testifying before the parliamentary investigation committee on 2015 terrorist attacks, François Delon, president of the CNCTR, said that this technique [of surveillance in real time] " was beginning to be applied, but only on a small group of people." He also repeated that the number of interceptions of communications (real time surveillance of both metadata and content of communications) was much lower than the authorised quota, 2700 individual and simultaneous individual surveillances - quota he judged "sufficient".
And yet there we are. Two months later, in less than 48 hours and without any real debate, the disposition that was supposed to be a relatively targeted measure becomes mass surveillance. In the short run, it feeds the political strategies of a few irresponsible people seeking exposure. But in the long run, it could come to epitomise the mismanagement of security and methodical destruction of the rule of law, that almost all parliamentarians have been voting for the past 2 years. Besides prolonging the state of emergency, the law as adopted also changes the regulations on house searches for digital data. Censured after a decision of the French Constitutional Council last February, those searches can now resume (without anyone knowing what will happen to the enormous data collected during the first three months of the state of emergency).
Tuesday evening, as an anchor on a news channel was asking a Far Right-Wing personality (not short on crazy proposals) if carrying fire guns should be legalised "for all citizens", MP Isabelle Attard was saying those words at the National Assembly: We have witnessed, since the night of Thursday to Friday, a security-driven overbid as we have never seen before. It has been a race to the more months of state of emergency prolongation, all the way up to making it permanent. More weapons, more war, more mass surveillance, more prison, more preventive confinement, more internment camps.
The full report shows that to this sentence, "several MPs from Les Républicains" answered: "So what?". So? So we repeat what Philippe Aigrain wrote here on Tuesday: that "those who want to resist the mechanics of violence will have to plough the soil of the possible, when it is the very idea of politics that some are burying."
• 1. See the anonymous official source quoted in the article of the French newspaper, Le Monde on the 19 November.