France: preventing another Charlie Hebdo with new surveillance powers?

Elisabeth Quillatre

Reacting to the Charlie Hebdo attacks, and only a few months after the adoption of the French Anti-Terrorism Act on 13 November 2014, the government decided to reinforce the provisions relating to the fight against terrorism and to tighten its laws on crimes committed on the Internet. As a consequence, on 19 March 2015, the French Prime Minister presented a new bill on intelligence to the National Assembly.

The purpose of this new bill is to substantiate the legal framework on intelligence by defining the missions of the intelligence services, the authorisation process for using interception techniques, and their control. Indeed, this new bill strengthens the intelligence services’ means of action by allowing said services to use techniques of access to information hitherto not formally legalised. However, an authorisation process shall be put in place to authorise the use of interception techniques by intelligence services, authorisation to be given by a new Authority of control to be created, the CNCTR (Commission nationale de contrôle des techniques de renseignement), under certain conditions.

Despite the procedure envisaged, this new bill is highly criticised by several associations defending civil liberties as well as private companies as it is seen as legalising mass surveillance without guarantee for individual freedoms and privacy as justice does not intervene a priori, and thus may constitute a “French Patriot Act.”

As the government initiated a fast-track procedure, less than two months were necessary to adopt the final text: adopted at first reading by the National Assembly on 5.05.2015, on 24.06.2015, the Parliament adopted the final text approved at the end of the joint committee debate held on 16.06.2015.

Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning that the bill was brought before the Constitutional Council of France (Constitutional Court) that had to rule whether the law was in conformity with French Constitution.   

What did the constitutional court decide? It upheld the provisions of the new Bill but added an advisory committee to oversee its work. This committee will comprise senators, magistrates and National Assembly members.

The new Bill on Intelligence is available at:

Elisabeth Quillatre, Legal Advisor

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Source information: This article was originally published by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom –