French Senate approves surveillance of citizens through phones

PARIS: The Senate has approved a controversial provision in a justice bill that grants law enforcement agencies the power to activate cameras and microphones on suspects’ devices without their knowledge.

The update, part of the “Keeper of the Seals” justice bill, aims to facilitate surveillance and improve access to geolocation data for tracking suspected criminals. While officials claim it will only be used in cases of delinquency, organized crime, and terrorism, critics argue that it remains disproportionate.

Civil rights advocates, including the Observatory of Digital Freedoms and La Quadrature du Net, have expressed concerns about privacy infringement. They warn that this provision could potentially turn any individual into a surveillance target, with the ability to remotely activate devices like televisions or baby monitors.

The Paris Bar, representing thousands of lawyers, has also criticized the lack of consultation from the government and highlighted the breach of professional secrecy and the rights of defense.

Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti defended the provision, stating that it includes “necessary safeguards, such as judicial approval for each surveillance operation”.

However, opponents have pointed out that the French government has been expanding its surveillance powers since the 2015 terrorist attacks, drawing parallels to the controversial US Patriot Act.

Although the Senate has approved the provision, it still needs to be passed by the Assembly. The left-wing opposition, lawyers, and advocacy groups are pushing for the dismissal or amendment of these provisions to protect civil liberties.

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