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France30 July 2002

Threat to Internet freedom posed by new security law

RSF has expressed its serious concern further to the French government’s introduction of a bill concerning the general direction and programme planning of internal security (Loi d’orientation et de programmation sur la sécurité intérieure, LOPSI). The National Assembly adopted the bill at the first reading on 17 July 2002. It outlines the present and future security policies of the Interior Ministry and government as a whole. The Senate will examine the bill on 30 and 31 July.

In a 29 July letter to French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, the organisation denounced "the latest step to be taken concerning security matters. [The organisation is] alarmed by the setback for civil, collective and individual rights brought on by this bill."

"It is generally recognised that the Assembly’s adoption of the very controversial Law on Daily Security (Loi sur la sécurité quotidienne, LSQ) in November 2001, and the European Parliament’s 30 May adoption of the disturbing amendment to the Directive on the Protection of Telecommunications Data and Information have already restricted these fundamental constitutional liberties. This bill threatens to simply erase decades of struggle for their establishment and preservation," stated RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard.

"We deplore the general climate of surveillance that is introduced by the new measures submitted to the legislature; the universal climate of suspicion that is encouraged by the fact that, henceforth, each citizen is considered a possible offender or terrorist, and the serious attacks on freedom of expression and the confidentiality of work-related and private correspondence. Our organisation specifically questions the possibility of guaranteeing the confidentiality of journalists’ sources, to the extent that data from Internet connections and e-mail exchanges (Internet connection logs) could be requisitioned and examined with disconcerting ease by police officers," underlined Ménard.

These concerns are amplified by the objective outlined in the bill to allow, "judicial police officers, acting in the context of an official investigation, and with a magistrate’s authorisation, to gain direct access to computer files and enable the long-distance seizure, via telematic or electronic means, of information that appears necessary to the establishment of the truth". This excerpt refers to the authorities’ licence to carry out off-property "searches" of Internet service providers’ computer servers, which store logs of users’ online activity, and automatically seize the information stored therein.

RSF has, therefore, asked the interior minister:

-  to specify the exact details of implementation under which the authorities will have access to data from Internet connections, sent and received e-mails and specify the policies governing the "seizure" of personal information;

-  to reaffirm his commitment to the protection of the confidentiality of professional exchanges, and especially the basic principle of confidentiality of journalists’ sources;

-  to ensure, together with the Justice Ministry, that a sufficient number of magistrates who are experienced with these issues are given the means to deal calmly and impartially with police officers’ requests for examination and seizure.

RSF also renewed its 6 June appeal to Internet service providers, asking them not to retain user data, and urged Internet users in general, and journalists in particular, to use cryptography software in order to preserve the confidentiality of their exchanges.

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