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French bill 'killing freedom'

March 19, 2015

Europe's rights body has criticized French anti-terror efforts. The government wants to give intelligence services legal backing to vacuum up metadata in the hope of preventing an imminent terror attack.

Charlie Hebdo
Image: DW/E. Bryant

On Thursday, Europe's rights commissioner criticized France for blocking "extremist" websites without judicial oversight. France's Interior Ministry has announced plans to block five websites accused of condoning terrorism - the first use of new government powers that came into force in February.

"Limiting human rights to fight against terrorism is a serious mistake and an inefficient measure that can even help the terrorists' cause," Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muiznieks said.

French rights groups, too, have criticized the measures, which would allow spies to suck up communications metadata - setting the government up for potential clashes with Internet companies under public pressure to ensure privacy. Muiznieks is "worried" about the "exclusively security-driven approach" that has shaped European anti-terrorism legislation. "If they are adopted, this legislation could have the effect of killing freedom and creating a dangerous social climate in which all individuals are considered potential suspects," he added.

'Extremely intrusive surveillance'

France's parliament starts debating the bill next month. The measures have already prompted an outcry from some privacy advocates, human rights groups and the Paris bar association, despite the government's efforts to distance itself from US-style mass surveillance.

"These are legal tools, but not tools of exception, nor of generalized surveillance of citizens," Prime Minister Manuel Valls told a news conference. "There will not be a French Patriot Act."

The measures would force communications firms to give intelligence services access to the connection data of people suspected of involvement with terrorist groups. In a statement released Thursday, Amnesty International announced that the bill "would pave the way for extremely intrusive surveillance practices with no judicial pre-authorization."

Officials proposed the bill before attacks in Paris from January 7 to 9, but, according to the government, the shootings have added urgency. Last week, prosecutors filed preliminary charges against suspected associates of a gunman involved in two of the attacks.

French authorities have rounded up individuals suspected of expressing support for the attacks, assigning lengthy prison sentences after expedited trials. On Wednesday, a controversial comedian was found guilty of "condoning terrorism" on Facebook.

Claiming that readers "have the right" to see them, the French magazine Paris Match has published photos of the bodies of the two brothers behind the first of the attacks, the January 7 mass shooting at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. French satirists have vowed not to be silenced by the attacks on the magazine, the target of frequent criticism for caricatures often considered racist or otherwise offensive.

mkg/lw (EFE, AFP, AP)