French lawmakers take first step toward gathering all communications metadata

The French National Assembly agreed to let spies gather data about phone calls and Internet use

French lawmakers have taken a first step toward allowing real-time surveillance of Internet and mobile phone use in France.

Following attacks on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a supermarket in Paris in January, the government rushed out a bill that will allow French intelligence services to collect communications metadata on the entire country's phone calls and Internet traffic, in some cases installing their own equipment on operators' networks. On Tuesday, the French National Assembly approved the bill by 438 votes to 86.

The proposed surveillance measures have encountered opposition from many quarters: Internet service providers, civil liberties groups, and even an association of motorcyclists, concerned about the potential for government monitoring of lobby groups.

Some of the country's Internet service and hosting providers said last month that they might have to leave the country in order to avoid losing customers if the bill becomes law. They don't want French intelligence services to adopt the same tactics as the U.S. National Security Agency, gathering up all the traffic it can in the hope that it will find something useful in it later.

Lawmakers and citizens will have little opportunity to debate the French bill. The French government, by declaring the bill "urgent," ensured that each house of the French parliament will only read it once, rather than shuttling it back and forth until they reach agreement on a text. It still faces a number of obstacles before it can become law, though: If the upper house of the French Parliament, the Senate, approves the bill, then a joint committee of the Senate and Assembly will iron out any differences between the texts voted by the two houses. Finally, the Constitutional Council is likely to be called on to strike out any provisions it deems unconstitutional.

Peter Sayer covers general technology breaking news for IDG News Service, with a special interest in open source software and related European intellectual property legislation. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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