French council approves controversial surveillance bill

France’s Constitutional Council has ruled that a highly controversial bill that was introduced to allow government surveillance of terrorism suspects does not violate the country’s constitution.

Despite strong opposition from civil liberty groups, the bill, which was proposed before the attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo and a kosher shop in Paris in January that resulted in the deaths of 17 people, was approved by French MPs in June. The government had previously said that the Paris attacks had added to the urgency of the law.

After the bill was upheld by the Council, France’s prime minister, Manuel Valls, wrote on Twitter: “From now on, France has a security framework against terrorism that respects liberties. It’s decisive progress.”

Part of the bill will force Internet service providers and communications firms to install electronic 'lock-boxes' to record metadata from web users throughout France, which will use algorithmic analysis to detect and highlight potentially suspicious behaviour. Although the data will be kept anonymous, intelligence agencies could then request greater surveillance be placed on anyone taking part in suspicious activity online.

In a recent report, the UN described the new bill as “overly broad” and “very intrusive.” The report also expressed concern that the bill had been passed “on the basis of broad and ill-defined goals, without prior judicial authorisation and without adequate and independent oversight mechanism.”

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