French lawmakers have spent the past four days debating a controversial anti-terrorism bill that, if passed, would dramatically expand the government’s surveillance powers. The law’s backers describe it as a necessary measure to thwart terrorist attacks, and it has strong support on both sides of the aisle. But the bill has drawn sharp criticism from French internet companies over fears that it could harm business, and from privacy advocates who say it would severely curtail civil liberties.
The proposed law, introduced in Parliament on Monday, would allow the government to monitor emails and phone calls of suspected terrorists and their contacts, without seeking authorization from a judge. Telecommunications and internet companies would be forced to automatically filter vast amounts of metadata to flag suspicious patterns, and would have to make that data freely available to intelligence services. Agents would also be able to plant cameras and bugs in the homes of suspected terrorists, as well as keyloggers to track their online behavior.
This week’s debate comes more than three months after gunmen killed 17 people in a string of attacks that began at the Paris office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Following the attacks, Prime Minister Manuel Valls called for stronger surveillance of social media websites and digital communications, raising fears that the government would respond with its own version of the Patriot Act — the sweeping anti-terror legislation that the US passed following the September 11th terrorist attacks. Valls sought to quell those concerns when he announced the bill last month, telling reporters that surveillance operations would only be carried out on suspected terrorists, and that controls would be put in place to prevent abuse.