Thursday, 18 February 2010

France to copy UK surveillance state - we finally exported something

France's lower house has passed a law that could give it a UK-style surveillance state.

The Loppsi 2 law, which is likely to be approved by the Senate in summer, gives French authorities extraordinary powers of censorship and surveillance over internet activity. (Loppsi = Loi d'Orientation et de Programmation pour le Sécurité Intérieure)

The bill includes a package of measures, not limited to cyber-crime. Drunk-driving legislation, crimes taking place in sports stadia, defence, some court procedure and even laws for burial in far-flung French territories are included in the bundle, which has been two and a half years in the making. Loppsi 2 proposes tripling the number of French CCTV cameras to 60,000 by next year and will give Prefets the right to authorise curfews of youngsters under 13.

However, it is the new powers granted in the fight against online crime which have grabbed the attention of digital crusaders and human rights activists alike.

Loppsi 2, like the UK's Digital Britain bill, forces Internet Service Providers to close down sites on the orders of the authorities. It also places a certain onus on ISPs to police themselves, declaring that it is the responsibility of ISPs to ensure users don't have access to "unsuitable content."

The law, like other laws recently introduced in the EU, is supposedly aimed at child pornography. However, previous experience shows that "unsuitable content" is a flexible definition: France has previously ruled that auctions of Nazi memorabilia break French laws, and ordered US company Yahoo to block French users from accessing such sites.

Critics say that most suppliers of child pornography use peer-to-peer networks rather than websites, so blocking a list of URLs would have little effect on traffic.

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of Loppsi 2 for rights activists is the suggestion that the authorities should be able to place malware or spyware on citizens' PCs for anything up to eight months. This would allow security forces to "observe, collect, record, save and transmit" keystrokes from the targeted machines thanks to government-installed "Trojan" viruses.

A further aspect of the bill is the creation of a database named "Pericles" which will allow the government and security forces to gather and store information gained from the above methods and from other state and private (banking, medical) sources. Britain's government recently put plans for such a database on hold; France may have its own by the end of this year.

Such innovations don't remain within the borders of one country for long. Thanks to the international nature of both child pornography and Islamist terrorism, French judges will argue that tough laws in their country are undermined by weaker regimes in the rest of Europe. The trend in European internet legislation in Britain and Germany has been towards less freedom, rather than more; Child porn is such a sensitive subject for the public that it has been relatively easy to introduce repressive legislation using this vile behaviour as an excuse.

Soon a version of Loppsi 2 could be coming to your PC: EU-created Spyware, anyone?

Thanks to EUROSOC

No comments: