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Sunday, 02 July 2017 03:15

Anti-terrorism in France : pretext to a reduction of civil liberties

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The two main French political parties, the PartiSocialiste (PS) and the Union pour unMouvementPopulaire (UMP), have agreed to reduce civil liberties through an anti-terrorism bill, on July 22, 2014. The text will be submitted to the vote on September 18.

The text has been presented as an amelioration of the mechanisms existing since October 2012. The French government claims it is focused on Jihadists departing for Syria and Iraq. But this law proposal is actually a extensive and systematic attack on the principles of individual freedom.

The UMP and PS MPs, probably afraid of the social protests in the streets (think for instance of the rolling flow of demonstrators against the Notre-Dame des Landes airport project), which are a direct threat to their democratic and constitutional legitimacy as rulers of the country, are establishing an Internet censorship mechanism on the name of security. It comes along with a drastic reduction of privacy, of freedom of circulation and of expression.

The prevention of terrorism is again used as a pretext for the questioning of democracy in a NATO country. States are always interested in the development of Orwellian institutions : paradoxically in the past it was in the name of the Cold War, and today it is to fight so-called “Islamism”. Yesterday, the First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, and today the leaders of Al-Qaida, are  used as scarecrows, scapegoats (René Girard), to convince citizens they do not need respect of the most basic principles of democracy. This is about creating a “state of war” in the mind of citizens : governments need to create a dramaturgy of power, a permanent “spectacle of war against terrorism” which becomes the “illusion of life” (Guy Debord), luring electors to vote for those who are “best able to protect them” instead of political parties that actually promote democracy. Governments that pass such laws encourage the most despicable instincts among the population : they give a white card to islamophobes and fascists.

The preamble of the law mentions the diffusion of “messages calling to terrorism or glorifying it. These messages participate to the ideological conditioning and are of a nature to drive the enacting of acts of terrorism”. It is difficult to be more obscure. Which are the messages, what are their subject ? Is it up to the French “Direction-Générale de la SécuritéIntérieure” to decide ? (The DGSI is the product of a merger of all French interior intelligence services. The merger was a result of a decision by Nicolas Sarkozy.) The preamble also talks about any “facts directly at the origin of terrorist acts, and which take part to the mediatic strategy of terrorist groups”. While the preamble claims it does not want to “repress abuses of the freedom of expression”, why is this law actually suggesting abuses of the freedom of speech ? Since 1959, France has been condemned 33 times by the European Court of Human Rights for violation of the freedom of expression.

Article 1 of the law drastically reduces the freedom of circulation of any person “susceptible to upset public security” after coming back from a “theater of operations of terrorist groupings”. This is intented as a way to fight jihadists tendencies but this is a major grey area, since it is up to the French Interior ministry to decide of the people which will be prevented from leaving the country.  And who defines what is a “theater of operations of terrorist groupings” ? Should we trust intelligence services ? This is really giving them a white card to label innocent people as terrorists. And these persons, simply because the Ministry of the Interior suspects them of being terrorists, could be the object of an European arrest warrant if they actually quit the French territory ! French news agency AFP also reports that the rapporteur of the law proposal, Socialist MP SébastienPietrasanta, added an amendment allowing the confiscation of the identity card of the person, in addition to his / her passport. He or she would simply receive a receipt (récépissé) instead of the ID card.

The article 2 of the law reduces the rights of foreigners under surveillance to phone to whoever they want. The article 3 extends the definition of terrorist acts to the material tools which have been apprehended by police forces and which could be used to commit, for instance, arson. Whoever is carrying any chemical substance of an explosive / incendiary nature “without a legitimate reason” could be actually seen as committing a “terrorist act” !

The article 4 of the law is aimed at “fighting the ever-increasing development of terrorist propaganda, which triggers or glorifies terrorist acts”. While the purpose is to punish “facts directly at the origin of terrorist attacks”, it is press freedom that is reduced : the sentences defined by the  1881 law on freedom of the press are increased from 5 to 7 years of jail. Furthermore, immediate summary trials are generalized : they are a way to push defence into its extreme limits, and they have been heavily criticized during the Sarkozy era.

The article 5 of the law develop the notion of an “individual or collective undertaking aimed at gravely upsetting public order through intimidation or terror”. To consult a website which has been defined arbitrarily by the DGSI as promoting terrorism becomes an offence. The DGSI has been accused of over-charging the files of about thirty activists that were arrested during demonstrations against the airport, in order to inculpate them without any motive, perhaps actually with false charges. These services, which are politically driven, will see their discretionary powers increased by the proposal.

The article 6 of the law gives the DGSI a white card to monitor people (including listening to sounds in a room), to wire-tap phones, to infiltrate, and to capture computer data, during an investigation, with the simple approval of an interim relief judge. A simple judge on expedited matters will allow the intelligence services to block any content on Internet that “upsets public order”.  Police custody can last beyond 48 hours, and investigation tools are reinforced.

The article 9 allows Internet access providers to block any website whose content promotes terrorism, a new potential attack on the freedom of speech. And worse, the article 10 allows the DGSI to investigate any personal data in the context of a search warrant during an investigation.

And amazingly, the article 13 creates the possibility of “investigation under pseudonym”. This is an incredible deterrence weapon against freedom of expression and political activism. Here is the Orwellian state in an absolutely blatant confession, and the door opened to all the imaginable manipulations ! What is the value of the evidence in such a context, with such discretionary powers ? Aren't intelligence services interested in triggering the attacks which will provide them work and budget, independently of the political interests of the authorities above them, of the will of the leaders to appeal to the conservative tendencies of the population ?

Jihadist tendencies should be combated, of course, but they should never ever become the pretext for a reduction of civil liberties, as they are in this law proposal. The (unapplied) 1793 French Constitution declared that “When the government violates the rights of the people, insurrection is for the people and for each portion of the people the most sacred of rights and the most indispensable of duties”. When governments repetitively demonstrate their deafness to the people, and when they actually plant the seeds of discord, they do not create the conditions of a peaceful co-existence. There is a “democratic balance” to preserve.

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