Final Adoption of Generalised Surveillance in France: a Disturbing Political Drift

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Paris, 19 December 2013 — The French President promulgated [fr] the 2014-2019 Defense Bill last night. Adoption of article 20 (former article 13) opens the door to the generalised surveillance of communications and the failure to request its constitutional challenge demonstrates the deep crisis of a political system which does not hesitate anymore to massively compromise fundamental rights. La Quadrature du Net thanks all those who contributed to the opposition to this article. It calls for the continuation of the fight against surveillance of our communications on the Internet by any means: before parliament or judges, through technology and usage choices.

The French 2014-2019 Defense Bill1Loi n° 2013-1168 du 18 décembre 2013 relative à la programmation militaire pour les années 2014 à 2019 et portant diverses dispositions concernant la défense et la sécurité nationale has been officially published last night in the Journal Officiel. Its article 20 (former article 13) opens the way to generalised surveillance of online information and communications, notably through live capturing of data from hosting services and Internet service providers and for purposes going way beyond mere national security.

The adoption of this article – with its ambiguous wording and misleading place in a Defense Bill meant to schedule the military budget – and the failure to obtain its constitutional review reflect the deep crisis that democratic representation is going through, failing to protect citizens fundamental rights. This Bill has been unanimously adopted by François Hollande’s left wing party – Parliament’s majority group –, despite wide inner divisions on article 20 and previous opposition to similar but temporary and less harmful texts in 2006 and 2008. The right wing, ecologists and the far-left voted against the Bill in both chambers.

However, once the Bill was adopted, despite the strong citizen mobilization and numerous warnings by various organizations, political divisions and group discipline prevented the collection of the 60 signatures required to call upon the Conseil Constitutionnel (French constitutional court) to review any new law. A strict party discipline from the left-wing majority party (PS), sectarianism from the right-wing party (UMP) refusing to sign together with green and far-left groups, and an aggressive campaign by the leader of the right-wing group against its MPs signing the request, will be remembered as symbols of the drift toward a post-democratic system.

Many other steps will enable citizens to continue the fight against the development of a generalised surveillance, which has become a tool for political powers unable to act for the common good. In legal terms, the future publication of the Decree by the Conseil d’État (Highest administrative court) and announced French laws on intelligence and freedoms online will provide new opportunities for discussion, decision, and challenge. But it is on the political and usage fronts that our rights and freedoms will be determined.

“With the others associations of defense of human rights and freedoms who have acted on this issue, we will campaign without rest against surveillance and these violations of the separation of powers. We call for a strong affirmation of the role of the judiciary, of the right to privacy and of individuals freedom in the upcoming laws, and any form of challenge” said Jérémie Zimmermann, cofounder and spokesperson of La Quadrature du Net.

“A balance of rights can only be restored if citizens strongly demonstrate that there is no democracy or human beings free to express themselves in a surveillance state, and if everyone, in their choices of services, tools and usage, reclaims what we abandoned to centralized operators” concluded Phillipe Aigrain, cofounder of La Quadrature du Net.