French surveillance post Paris attacks

‘The Scrutineer’ at Al Jazeera looks at surveillance in light of the Paris attacks – In wake of Paris attacks, French surveillance gets a closer look.

France already allows mass surveillance with new laws coming into effect just before the attacks.

French President Francois Hollande chaired an emergency meeting Monday morning with key cabinet ministers and heads of police and security services to discuss how persons known to the country’s intelligence community were still able to coordinate violent raids in Paris. But just days before the attacks on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo left 12 dead and wounded another 11, a controversial new law, broadly expanding the French government’s surveillance powers, went into effect.

The law — passed in December 2013 over loud protests by the Green Party, leftists, privacy advocates and business interests — permits the French government to engage in real-time, bulk data collection without judicial oversight. This, coupled with a 2014 law criminalizing “individual terrorist enterprise,” has established the kind of wide-ranging authority that, when used by the U.S. National Security Agency, was once sharply condemned by Hollande.

Buit they had been doing mass surveillance prior to making it legal.

Yet, long before the 2013 surveillance bill was introduced, Hollande’s socialist administration was profiling French Muslims, and, unbeknownst to the public, carrying out a massive program of domestic surveillance.

Run out of the Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE) — the French CIA equivalent staffed by some 5,000 people, with an annual budget of 600 million Euros (more than $700 million) — the monitoring program has gathered troves of informationthrough a network of satellites and 20 on-the-ground “listening stations” dispersed throughout France and its territories. Untold volumes have been swept in: data and metadata from phone calls, email and text messages, social media posts and faxes. (No matter that the country supported a 2013 U.N. resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age.)

Other post-9/11 laws and policies — not at all clandestine — have permitted incursions into French daily life, virtual and real. Statutes purporting to combat terrorism and illegal file-sharing have undermined privacy on the Web and, by extension, residents’ freedom of speech.

And they had been watching the Paris murderers.

Following Wednesday morning’s attack, it became clear that French intelligence and law enforcement had been monitoring the shooters, Cherif and Said Kouachi. And, during the Friday standoffs, much was divulged about Amedy Coulibaly, the man who held 16 hostages at a Paris kosher supermarket. But earlier surveillance failed to prevent these incidents.

The only type of surveillance that would stop almost all attacks would be round the clock surveillance by people, and the intrusiveness of that and the resources required would rule it out as a viable option.

Many will want to know why. As analogies to 9/11 and the Patriot Act proliferate in the international media, Hollande’s reformist administration may be forced to choose, at least rhetorically, between national security and the rights to privacy and freedom of speech. The coming months will challenge France to answer with intelligence of a different kind.

Many governments will be challenged by the Paris attacks, and will be forced between types and degrees of surveillance.

Law enforcement and protection will never be 100% effective. The challenge is to get a reasonable and palatable balance between security and the rights to privacy and freedom of speech.

Leave a comment


  1. John Schmidt

     /  16th January 2015

    The worse part of this given that 100% surveillance is both impossible and without guarantee of success, democracy is being forced to decide how many deaths or injury to innocent victims of terrorism, is acceptable verse a perceived risk to personal freedom.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  16th January 2015

      Only very indirectly. Actually the risks are unknowable and unquantifiable so as usual life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient evidence. The best thing about a world full of independent nation states is that it allows multiple simultaneous experiments to be run to test alternative solutions. Imagine the inevitable horror that would result in a single world government where this was not possible.

  2. “Law enforcement and protection will never be 100% effective. The challenge is to get a reasonable and palatable balance between security and the rights to privacy and freedom of speech.”

    There’s no point in trying to balance security against fictions. Criminals have no right to privacy in committing a crime, and freedom of speech does not mean that a right exists to lie with malicious intent.

    The point that the “Je suis Charlie” idiots are missing is that freedom of speech can imply the ability to slander or defame others. In a religious context they could be called agents of the devil (diablos means slanderer).

  3. Mike C

     /  16th January 2015

    I really love the Belgium Police’s pro-active approach towards Terrorists. Shooting the murderous mental muslim maniacs before they murder innocent citizens, is definitely a philosophy I support wholeheartedly 🙂

  4. Kittycatkin

     /  17th January 2015

    The Germans did that-so did Pol Pot-so did Idi Amin…it’s called genocide.

  5. Brown

     /  17th January 2015

    Of course there is the alternative plan that we seem reluctant to consider. Dump the EU, make borders real again, kick out all the Muslims, save billions on welfare, police and security, balance budget, reduce taxes, have a wine and relax again.


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