France is attracting widespread criticism after introducing a new law which allows the government to gather even more digital information than before.
The country's government has pushed through a new law that extends the scope of telecoms and internet surveillance by the state, even though it has since been heavily criticised by various authorities, including the country's data protection watchdog and the employers' federation.
The new law, which is part of a new military programming law that was passed on Wednesday, allows the country to gather digital information previously limited to intelligence agencies tied to the defence, interior, finance and budget ministries.
This essentially means that the police, intelligence and anti-terrorist agencies can now spy on Internet users in real-time, across computers, tablets and smartphones. They'll also be able to tap content held by host websites, as well as telephone and internet traffic data from internet providers.
Government figures have previously had to get the approval of a judge at the National Commission for the Control of Security Intercepts before they could tap phones or intercept user data.
Caspar Bowden, an independent researcher who formerly worked as chief privacy adviser at Microsoft, reserved his strongest criticism for the CNIL, the independent administrative regulatory body charged with ensuring data privacy law in the country.
“It is disappointing that the CNIL has balked at criticising the new powers, which are much more sweeping than the UK's ill-fated Communications Data Bill,” he said, when speaking to SCMagazine.co.uk.
“It shows [that] the EU governments still have few qualms about mass-surveillance of their own populations, even as they protest about NSA”.
“It isn't hypocrisy, as the US often alleges,” he continued. “It is realpolik. The question today is do securocrats owe more allegiance to each other than the sovereignty of their own people.”
Furthermore, Phillipe Aigrain, co-founder of non-profit organisation La Quadrature du Net, which looks at internet privacy, said that the law is “total abuse of citizen's privacy”.
“In the context of Snowden's revelations on massive and generalised citizen surveillance, it is shocking to see the French Parliament adopt a text that enshrines the state of emergency and allows total abuse of citizen's privacy,” said Aigrain in a blog post. He added, “Representatives must hear the call of civil society and activate recourse to the Constitutional Council."
Despite the public outcry, government officials insist that the measure is essential in its bid to tackle terrorism, organised crime and economic or scientific espionage. Defence minister, Jean-Yves Drian, stressed to members of the press that “public liberties will be covered”.
This news is likely to surprise many industry observers, not least because French president Francois Hollande publicly denounced the US and – specifically – the National Security (NSA) for carrying out mass surveillance on European citizens, including those living in France.
Holland, speaking only weeks ago, even backed proposals for an established code of conduct between the allies that would stipulate how they gathered digital intelligence.
In related news, eight leading technology firms this week clubbed together to criticise the scale of this global surveillance. The Reform Government Surveillance Group consortium, which comprises Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook among others, wrote to the US President and Congress to argue that current surveillance methods “undermine the freedom” of the people.