from the looking-back-I-saw-a-second-set-of-digital-footprints dept
With every government in Europe pitching their own version of “acceptable” intrusion, it’s hardly surprising France’s government wants in on the action. Amid calls to criminalize end-to-end encryption, to mandate client-side scanning, and to otherwise interfere directly with content moderation efforts, the French government’s latest move is nothing more than the sort of thing we’ve come to expect as politicians edge closer to returning to the heyday of general warrants and autocracy-adjacent power moves.
Because criminal activity and terrorism remain a thing, the French government has decided it’s time to amp up its domestic surveillance programs. Here’s the latest, as reported by Le Monde, via TechRadar.
French police should be able to spy on suspects by remotely activating the camera, microphone and GPS of their phones and other devices, lawmakers agreed late on Wednesday, July 5.
Oh, really? Would this be a wiretap equivalent or just a standard warrant that compels service providers to permit this sort of access to devices owned by their customers?
These questions can’t be answered. Yet. It appears it would go down the regular warrant path though, given its focus on geolocation, which can often be achieved with other devices (cell site simulators) or the results of normal day-to-day business of cell service providers/app creators/search engine providers (cell tower dumps, data brokers, reverse warrants).
But there’s more to it than just the passive tracking via location data. The proposal makes it clear the police should be allowed to engage in active tracking by remotely accessing targets’ devices.
Covering laptops, cars and other connected objects as well as phones, the measure would allow the geolocation of suspects in crimes punishable by at least five years’ jail. Devices could also be remotely activated to record sound and images of people suspected of terror offenses, as well as delinquency and organized crime.
It’s somewhat refreshing to hear a government openly acknowledge it’s not interested in limiting intrusive surveillance to the “worst of the worst” criminal suspects. Proponents aren’t offering up empty defensive phrases referring to child molesters or terrorists as justifications for greater government intrusion. Instead, they’re openly admitting police will use these powers to go after anyone suspected of engaging in an offense that might be punishable by five years in prison.
Adding this caveat doesn’t really change anything:
During a debate on Wednesday, MPs in President Emmanuel Macron’s camp inserted an amendment limiting the use of remote spying to “when justified by the nature and seriousness of the crime” and “for a strictly proportional duration.”
None of that means anything. If a law enforcement officer tells a court the intrusion is justified, it will likely be deemed justified. The law would “limit” constant surveillance to six months (presumably open for renewal with a new court order), but six months of always-on surveillance is six months of always-on government eavesdropping, which can hardly be justified by vague wording about “nature and seriousness.”
On the plus side, there’s a carveout for doctors, journalists, lawyers, judges, and (of course) French Parliament members. These people will apparently never be considered acceptable targets for this intrusive surveillance. But I’m sure when push comes to shove in the investigatory arena, French citizens will soon discover it’s only MPs who are truly exempt for this snooping.
Adding to the idiocy of it all is the statement made by Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti. According to the Minister, there’s nothing Orwellian about constant, highly intrusive surveillance. “We’re far away from the totalitarianism of 1984,” claims Dupond-Moretti. How so? Well, because the ends justify the means.
“People’s lives will be saved” by the law, he added.
Thanks. That’s very reassuring. There’s nothing like a government figure nudging a nation towards totalitarianism telling those being forced towards this end of the governance spectrum that their fears are unfounded. And even if their fears are well-founded, fuck it: we’re gonna solve more crimes so it’s all good.