The French National Assembly (lower house of parliament) has passed a bill that would allow police to remotely monitor suspects by remotely activating cameras, microphones and geolocation tools on suspects’ smartphones and other devices.
All these measures can only be carried out with judicial approval. In addition, the law does not allow these measures to be applied to journalists, lawyers and representatives of other “sensitive professions”. Such measures are only allowed in certain cases and are introduced for a period of up to six months. Geolocation is only applied to persons suspected of a crime carrying a minimum of five years imprisonment. The bill had already received the approval of the Senate (the upper house of Parliament), but in order to go into effect it had to be approved by the National Assembly.
The initiative deeply troubled civil rights advocates. They point out that the document does not contain lists of alleged crimes that may be the subject of this type of prosecution, which means that abuses cannot be ruled out. History shows that the hurdle for applying such measures is tending to come down: for example, whereas previously genetic registration was only applied to those who committed intimate crimes, today it is practiced for most crimes, human rights activists note. In addition, the use of tracking functions depends on vulnerabilities in the software platforms of the devices. There is a risk that law enforcement agencies will simply exploit vulnerabilities in gadgets instead of pointing out bugs to manufacturers.
French Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti pledged that the new powers would only be used by law enforcement on “dozens” of cases a year – an initiative, he said, “far from” total Orwellian surveillance. The politician is confident that the new law will save lives.