France's Greens start fight against new surveillance powers

PARIS Wed Dec 11, 2013 3:45pm EST

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PARIS (Reuters) - France's Green Party said it would back a campaign to force the constitutional court to review a new law that expands the government's powers to monitor phone and Internet connection data without authorization from a judge.

The new measure, which grants monitoring powers to additional agencies such as tax and finance authorities and broadens the reasons surveillance can be carried out, was included in a military budget law passed on Tuesday. In the Senate, 164 voted for the law and 146 against.

To get the French law reviewed by the Constitutional Council, its opponents will need the backing of 60 senators and deputies. The Green Party has 27 members of parliament.

The changes come after widespread outrage in Europe over revelations brought to light by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about alleged spying carried out by the United States.

According to Article 13 of the new law, French government agencies will be able to request connection data from telecom operators and Internet companies transmitted in real time, including location information from mobile phones.

The grounds on which the government may carry out such surveillance have been expanded to include not only national security and counter-terrorism, but also to protect "the scientific and economic potential of France".

The measure was passed despite the opposition of technology companies such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft, French telecom operators such as Orange, as well as the French data protection watchdog.

They worry the measures do not protect people's rights and will undermine confidence in Internet services commonly used by consumers and businesses, such as cloud computing and email.

The Socialist government of President Francois Hollande argued that Article 13 was needed to clear up a legal grey area and actually grants stronger civil rights protections.

Fleur Pellerin, the junior minister with responsibility for the digital economy, promised that in the decree to enact the law, further details on would be included to specify what types of data could be collected.

Pellerin has also promised a wider law on the Internet next year, including a section on protecting civil rights.

The Greens said in a statement they would join any group of deputies, regardless of party affiliation, that was willing to challenge the law's constitutionality.

"Doubts persist over the law, so it would be preferable that the constitutional court rules on whether it conforms with the principles of individual freedom guaranteed by the constitution," said the Greens.

(Additional reporting by Gwenaelle Barzic; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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