French law enforcement is on the verge of obtaining extensive authority to monitor suspected criminals. Recently, the National Assembly of France passed a bill granting police the ability to remotely activate cameras, microphones, and GPS systems on phones and other devices. Judicial approval is required, and the amended bill prohibits their use against journalists, lawyers, and other sensitive professions, as reported by Le Monde. The intention is to restrict usage to serious cases, for a maximum duration of six months, specifically targeting crimes punishable by at least five years in prison.
An earlier version of the bill had already passed the Senate, but the current amendment necessitates approval from that legislative body before it can become law.
Civil liberties advocates are expressing concern, with the digital rights group La Quadrature du Net warning about the potential for abuse. Since the bill lacks clarity on what constitutes a serious crime, there are apprehensions that the French government might exploit it to target environmental activists and others who do not pose significant threats. The organization also notes a pattern where concerning security policies tend to expand to cover less serious offenses. La Quadrature points out that genetic registration, initially implemented for sex offenders, is now used for most crimes.
The group further highlights that remote access may rely on security vulnerabilities. Instead of urging manufacturers to patch these vulnerabilities, the police would exploit them, according to La Quadrature.
Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti claims that these powers would be utilized in only a limited number of cases each year, far from resembling the surveillance state depicted in Orwell’s 1984. The minister argues that this measure will ultimately save lives.