The French government has come up with an innovative way of financing a program of mass social media, surveillance, to use it to detect tax fraud.
The self financing surveillance scheme has now been given the go the constitutional court. Customs and
tax officials will be allowed to review users' profiles, posts and pictures for evidence of undisclosed income.
In its ruling, the court acknowledged that users' privacy and freedom of expression could be compromised, but its applied caveats to
the legislation. It said authorities would have to ensure that password-protected content was off limits and that they would only be able to use public information pertaining to the person divulging it online. However the wording suggests that the non
public data is available and can be used for other more covert reasons.
The mass collection of data is part of a three-year online monitoring experiment by the French government and greatly increases the state's online surveillance powers.
France's highest authority on constitutional matters has approved a controversial bill that gives the state sweeping new powers to spy on citizens.
The constitutional council made only minor tweaks to the legislation, which human rights and
privacy campaigners, as well as the United Nations, have described as paving the way for very intrusive surveillance and state-approved eavesdropping and computer-hacking.
An 18-strong United Nations committee for human rights warned that
the surveillance powers granted to French intelligence agencies were excessively broad . It said the the bill grants overly broad powers for very intrusive surveillance on the basis of vast and badly defined objectives and called on
France to guarantee that any interference in private life must conform to principles of legality, proportionality and necessity .
Amnesty International warned that the French state was giving itself extremely large and intrusive powers
with no judicial control.
The bill gives the country's secret services the right to eavesdrop on the digital and mobile phone communications of anyone linked to a terrorist inquiry and install secret cameras and recording devices in
private homes without requesting prior permission from a judge.
Intelligence agencies can also place keylogger devices on computers that record keystrokes in real time. Internet and phone service providers will be forced to install black
boxes that will alert the authorities to suspicious behaviour online. The same companies will be forced to hand over information if asked. Recordings can be kept for a month, and metadata for five years.
A special advisory group, the National
Commission for the Control of Intelligence Techniques, made up of magistrates, MPs and senators from the upper house of parliament, will be consulted instead of a judge.
The French parliament has approved a controversial law extending mass snooping capabilities of the intelligence services, with the aim of preventing Islamist attacks.
The law on intelligence-gathering, adopted by 438 votes to 86, was drafted after
muslim terrorists attacked the Charlie Hebdo office and a Jewish supermarket.
The Socialist government says the law is needed to take account of changes in communications technology. But critics say it is a dangerous extension of mass
The new law define new purposes for which secret intelligence-gathering may be used. It sets up a supervisory body, the National Commission for Control of Intelligence Techniques (CNCTR), with wider rules of operation. And inevitably
it authorises new methods, such as the bulk collection of metadata via internet providers
One online advocacy group, La Quadrature du Net, wrote after the vote:
Representatives of the French people have given
the Prime Minister the power to undertake massive and limitless surveillance of the population.
Google and Facebook are among a group of net heavyweights taking the French government to court.
The legal challenge at the State Council, France's highest judicial body, has been brought by The French Association of Internet Community Services
(ASIC) and relates to government plans to keep web users' personal data for a year.
More than 20 firms are involved, including eBay and Dailymotion.
The law obliges a range of e-commerce sites, video and music services and webmail providers
to keep a host of data on customers. This includes users' full names, postal addresses, telephone numbers and passwords.
The data must be handed over to the authorities if demanded. Police, the fraud office, customs, tax and social security bodies
will all have the right of access.
ASIC head Benoit Tabaka believes that the data law is unnecessarily draconian. ASIC also thinks that passwords should not be collected and warned that retaining them could have security implications.