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La Quadrature du Net: French Surveillance Bill: a Major Defeat for Liberties

June 2015 by La Quadrature du Net

The Commission Mixte Paritaire — a joint parliamentary committee responsible for reaching a compromise between the lower and upper house — met on 16th June to reach an agreement on the final version [1] on the Surveillance Bill, between the version approved by the National Assembly on 5th May, and the one approved by the Senate on 9th June. However, a last minute change modified deeply the spirit of the Bill and its application on French territory. La Quadrature du Net regrets this umpteenth anti-democratic procedure and renews its call to French representatives to reject this text during the final vote on the 23rd and 24th June.

While the core work of this joint committee consisted in finding an agreement between the two, after all not so different, versions of the text, the last-minute addition by one of the rapporteurs of an amendment to modify section 821-1 of the Domestic Security Code goes completely against the logic of the text.

Indeed, this change creates a distinction regarding interceptions from French territory and those aimed at French territory, between French citizens and usual residents, and the others:

"By way of derogation from the first subparagraph, when the implementation of an interception technique does not target a French citizen or a person habitually residing on French territory, the authorisation is given by the Prime Minister without preliminary notice of the National Commission of Control of Interception Techniques [CNCTR in French]."

Thus, any person transiting in France or not being identified as habitually resident is deprived from all the guarantees offered by the preliminary notice of the CNCTR — which were already few — and can be directly put under surveillance following authorisation by the French Prime Minister.

The prior version of the Bill distinguished between interceptions on French territory and those made abroad, with different procedures and different level of guarantees, which was strongly criticized by all the opponents of the text. However now, the distinction would be made on the basis of the surveilled persons, within the national territory. This disposition renders inapplicable any desire to control and to guarantee public freedoms: in fact, how can equal rights be ensured with such a disposition? What will be the status for the entourage (French or habitually residing in France) of the persons under surveillance in accordance with the "international" regime? How can the slightest respect for privacy and proportionality of the interceptions be guaranteed for citizens close to an IMSI-catcher operated under this procedure?

The surreptitious insertion of this disposition, requested by an intelligence service, is all the more revealing as the Commission Mixte Paritaire has refused to keep an amendment suggested by the Senate prohibiting any investigation of the CNCTR even when it relates to illegal surveillance interceptions.

La Quadrature du Net strongly condemns this amendment that exacerbates even more the danger caused by the Surveillance Bill, and calls on senators and deputies to reject the whole Bill on the 23rd and 24th June. Let their vote become a public denunciation of this cavalier process implied by the amendment, avoiding any kind of public debate or Parliamentary vote.

"This text produced by the Commission Mixte Paritaire gives carte blanche to the intelligence services to violate our fundamental rights as they wish" says Philippe Aigrain, co-founder of La Quadrature du Net.

"The French Government and the rapporteurs have kept on strengthening this freedom infringing bill from the beginning to the end, despite the growing opposition from different and diverse environments. Now that the final vote has come, it is high time for MPs to refuse to be the government’s rubber-stamp, and to vote against a bill that increasingly, day after day, puts our democracy to shame", pleads Adrienne Charmet, campaign manager for La Quadrature du Net.

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