French parliament approves controversial surveillance law

The Assemblée Nationale, the lower house of the French Parliament, has overwhelmingly voted in favour of a controversial new intelligence law which will enable law enforcement to monitor internet communications, telephone calls and text messages, without first seeking permission from a judge.

The law, which could come into effect in the next couple of months if, as expected, it is passed by the Sénat, has attracted much criticism and has already been compared to the US Patriot Act.

One of the most controversial parts of the bill is so-called ‘black boxes', which will have to be installed at French internet service providers (ISPs) to filter all traffic. These mathematical algorithms which will detect suspicious activity, such as if someone if watching a video relating to terrorism, and will then record everything the user does online. The only body to be aware of this algorithm source code and of this recording will be a new institution, nominated by the French ARCEP.

In addition, the new law seeks to introduce a new database of dangerous persons, new devices to record phone calls and keystrokes (via keyloggers) and FISA-like metadata collection. CNIL, Amnesty International, a group of parliament members, hosting company OVH, Gandi and Online.net journalist unions and the French association of terrorism victims all campaigned against its introduction, but the government has argued that more oversight is needed in light of the Charlie Hebdo attack in January.

438 out of 566 parliamentary members of the lower house from all parties voted in favour of the law, which could still be rejected by the Sénat and The Constitutional Council.

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