Will French Parliamentarians Consent to a Democratorship?

Numerous reactions are now being voiced against the inclusion in the 2014-2019 French Defense Bill of article 13 whose provisions enable a pervasive surveillance of online data and communications. Gilles Babinet, appointed in 2012 as French Digital Champion to Nellie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda for Europe, was quoted [fr] in the French newspaper Les Echos, “This law is the most serious attack on democracy since the special tribunals during the Algerian War” (our translation).

This statement comes after the public declaration [fr] by the Association of Community-based Internet Services (ASIC), the press release by La Quadrature du Net and the opinion of the Conseil National du Numérique [fr] (The French Digital Council) which calls on the suppression of article 13.

News articles in the press refer to the extensive attack on freedom and fundamental rights that the adoption of this article would represent. Such criticism is still building up. But time is running out because the government is using cynically the urgency of adopting the Defense Bill in order to push the article 13 through Parliament. If, on this Tuesday, 10 December, the French Senate adopts the text unchanged compared to the one adopted on first reading on 4 December by the National Assembly, then only the government would be allowed to present an amendment to withdraw article 13 in the National Assembly. If t giovernment does not backtrack, then to rescue our fundamental rights, the National Assembly would be left with the only option to reject the bill in its entirety and face the consequences that such a full rejection would entail.then the National Assembly will no longer vote on the text. It is thus essential for the Senate to adopt at least one amendment to the text of article 13 (correction of 10 December 2013 at 17:50).

It is evident that faced with a bill that threatens our fundamental rights, every parliamentarian must take their decision on the basis of their own personal choice and ethics. There is no hiding behind party affiliation that could limit their ability to vote according to their personal conscience on this matter.

Summary of the measures included in article 13

  • Article 13 renders permanent a provisional measure introduced in the anti-terrorism legislation of 2006, extended in 2008 and 2012, and valid until 31 December 2015 (there was no urgent security need to legislate it). Not only will it be made permanent, its nature and scope are also significantly extended.
  • Before, the authorities were allowed to collect connection data. Now authorities may request the live capturing of data and digital documents from both Internet Service Providers and hosting services.
  • The type of information that may be captured and requested would include all data and documents treated or saved by these entities' networks or services.
  • The agencies that are allowed to request this type of information would be extended beyond those directly concerned with National Defense and Security to include, for instance, the Department of Economy and Finance.
  • The goals of the surveillance will be extended to include any information related to scientific and economic potential of France, or the fight against criminality.
  • Finally, not only will the judiciary be simply bypassed, but the only measure of control, let to the National Commission of Control of Electronic Surveillance, will only be to emit a (secret) "recommendation" to the Prime Minister, a process that carries with it no weight whatsoever.

This piece was initially published [fr] on the blog of Philippe Aigrain, founding member of La Quadrature du Net.

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