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French Bill Aims to Broaden Surveillance Powers

by Lisa Bryant March 19, 2015

Two months after the Paris shootings, and a day after attacks across the Mediterranean Sea in Tunisia, France has unveiled new legislation to eavesdrop on potential jihadists and other terrorist suspects. Some groups are concerned it may threaten civil liberties.

The Socialist government's draft law was drawn up before the January attacks in Paris, but it aims to deal with the same fears: the growing threat of militant Islam in France. Authorities estimate 1,200 or more French have left to join jihadist groups abroad, and some are returning. Other would-be terrorists have never left the country.

Recent terrorist attacks in Copenhagen, and this week in Tunis, have only fueled concerns about radical Islam.

At a news conference after unveiling the bill Thursday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the threat of another attack was constantly present. It was not a matter of whether there will be another attack in France or Europe, he said, but when and how.

The draft legislation would broaden the power of French authorities to monitor potential terrorists, including allowing them to tap phone calls or electronic communications if there may be a direct link with an investigation of a suspect. They may also be allowed to bug the apartments of suspects with microphones and cameras.

But Valls said the bill is not a French variation of the controversial U.S. Patriot Act, which gave American intelligence agencies broad surveillance powers after the 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.

'I understand the concerns about the bill. In no case, would it mean mass surveillance of people, it would be narrowly confined to terrorist suspects,' said Valls.

But a number of groups are worried the measures could infringe on privacy rights, including the Paris bar association. Rights group Amnesty International France has also expressed concern, although it told VOA it wants to study the bill before commenting further.

The French parliament is expected to take up the legislation next month. Valls says he hopes it will be passed as soon as possible.

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