September 4, 2008 / 3:11 PM / 11 years ago

French issue call to storm "electronic Bastille"

PARIS (Reuters) - Opposition to a new security database is gaining momentum in France as people return to work after a summer break during which the government authorized the state to store personal information on people as young as 13.

The decree creating the “Edvige” electronic database appeared in the official gazette on July 1, when the country was winding down for the summer, but news of its content has been gradually filtering out and is now stirring fierce criticism.

“The Edvige database has no place in a democracy,” wrote Michel Pezet, a lawyer and former member of a body charged with protecting French citizens from electronic prying, in Thursday’s edition of the newspaper Le Monde.

“There is nothing in the decree that sets limits or a framework. Whether the database is used with or without moderation depends only on orders from up high. The electronic Bastille is upon us,” he wrote.

He was referring to the notorious Paris fortress in which French kings could arbitrarily imprison opponents until it was stormed on July 14, 1789, at the start of the French Revolution.

The decree says the aim is to centralize and analyze data on people aged 13 or above who are active in politics or labor unions, who play a significant institutional, economic, social or religious role, or who are “likely to breach public order”.

The information that can be collected includes addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, physical appearance, behavioral traits, fiscal and financial records, and details about people who have personal ties with the subject.

Critics say this means the police can store data on people’s ethnic origin, sexual preference or intimate relationships.

An online petition calling on the government to scrap Edvige has gathered over 103,700 signatures since July 10, according to its website on nonaedvige.ras.eu.org.

The government has defended Edvige as an anodyne database that simply centralizes information that used to be held by separate security bodies that have been merged.

President Nicolas Sarkozy came to power last year promising tough action against crime, a major theme in his campaign, and critics say Edvige is part of the government’s drive to woo voters at the expense of personal freedoms.

Groups as diverse as magistrates’ bodies, labor unions, gay rights organizations and civil liberties defenders have said Edvige allows the state to intrude on citizens’ private lives.

“With just a few clicks of the mouse, any government official or civil servant will have access to intimate data,” said opposition politician Francois Bayrou earlier this week.

Several interest groups have appealed to the Conseil d’Etat, France’s highest administrative court, to try and force the government to cancel the decree creating Edvige.

Editing by James Mackenzie and Mary Gabriel

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