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French National Assembly Considering Bill to Allow Authorities to Access Suspects’ Personal Devices

The French National Assembly is expected to pass a justice reform bill Tuesday that will, among other things, allow French authorities to tap a suspect’s Internet-connected devices, enabling police to identify the device’s location, as well as access any microphones and cameras it has.

The French Senate passed the Orientation and Programming Bill for the Ministry of Justice two weeks ago, and it has the support of French President Emmanuel Macron’s administration ahead of the vote today.

For French authorities to tap a suspect's device, the bill outlines certain conditions that must be met:

  • The procedure needs investigating judge approval.

  • Targets must be suspected of terrorism or organized criminal activity that would be punishable by five or more years in prison.

  • The goal of tapping the device must be to locate the target.

  • People in professions deemed sensitive cannot be subjected to the surveillance. Sensitive professions include doctors, journalists, lawyers, judges, and members of parliament.

Authorities would gain control of the devices by accessing and surreptitiously installing the necessary applications. They would not be required to notify or obtain consent from suspects for tapping their devices.

La Quadrature du Net, an organization that fights against digital censorship and surveillance, criticized the measure, noting that in addition to mobile phones, cars, tablets, and laptops, the bill includes the ability to access any Internet-connected device. The organization also said that the term “serious crimes” was too broad and encompasses much more than the terrorism or organized crime labels accompanying the bill’s language. La Quadrature du Net said it could include such crimes as providing false documents to authorities or unauthorized information downloads from a computer system.

Other critics have compared the legislation to policies in George Orwell's 1984. In defending the bill, however, French Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti said the proposed law would see limited use, would save lives, and that it is not anything close to the extreme surveillance state of George Orwell’s 1984.

“We're far away from the totalitarianism of 1984,” George Orwell's novel about a society under total surveillance, Dupond-Moretti said in an interview with Le Monde. “People's lives will be saved” by the law, he added.

The French National Assembly was considering the legislation as of Security Management's press time. This article will be updated if the bill is passed.

In other smart device news, the U.S. federal government announced a new certification and labelling program to identify devices that meet the government’s cyber protection guidelines. Consumer devices that can be connected to the Internet, from refrigerators to thermostats to fitness trackers, that meet the criteria can be labelled with a “Cyber Trust” shield as early as next year.