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French ‘PATRIOT’ Act goes through parliament

The act grants sweeping powers in the digital realm.

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The French parliament has passed controversial legislation expanding the powers of its intelligence services, including in the digital realm.

Authorities will be able to bug computers and mobile devices as well as intercept emails. Associates of those under surveillance could also be monitored and communications between people in France and those abroad could be subject to surveillance.

In addition, authorities will be able to install recording and filming devices in people’s homes without a warrant.

France’s top administrative court will be able to order surveillance to be ended and an independent body has been created to oversee surveillance operations.

The bill was passed in the National Assembly by 438 votes to 86, with 42 abstaining. The bill still has to go before the Senate in June, which will be able to propose amendments.

It has been dubbed a French version of the US PATRIOT Act, which was passed by George Bush in 2001 in the wake of the Al-Quaeda attack on the Twin Towers in New York. Several provisions of the act have since been extended by Bush himself and successor Barack Obama.

"Though the goal of the bill is to place France’s surveillance practices under the rule of law, it in fact uses law to clothe a naked expansion of surveillance powers," said Dinah PoKempner, Human Rights Watch general counsel, in a statement on 7 April.

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"France can do much better than this, especially if it wants to distance itself from the overreaching and secretive mass surveillance practices of the US and the UK that have attracted so many legal challenges."

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