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France expands Internet, phone monitoring powers

PARIS (Reuters) - France expanded the government's powers to monitor phone and Internet connection data without judicial review as a last-minute opposition attempt to block the move failed to gather support.

The French Official Journal on Thursday published a military budget law that grants monitoring powers to more agencies such as tax and finance authorities, broadens the grounds for surveillance, and strips judges of the power to review monitoring requests.

The proposed law had come under fire from Google Inc and Microsoft Corp, telecom operators such as Orange and Internet advocacy groups, who argue that it is too broad and violates people's privacy.

Parliament members of the Green Party had tried to make an alliance with the left-wing Front de Gauche and a dissident group within the conservative UMP party to force a review by the top constitutional watchdog, but failed to get the backing of 60 senators or 60 deputies to initiate the procedure.

"Despite citizen's action and the engagement of 48 parliamentarians, the appeal to the Constitutional Council did not proceed because of political quarrels," the Digital Renaissance group said in a statement.

Green party parliamentarians Barbara Pompili and Francois de Rugy blamed the failure on the refusal of UMP MPs to link up with green and far-left groups.

Center-right UMP parliamentary floor leader Christian Jacob wrote to his 190 colleagues last week that the group would not seek a legal review. The UMP is the largest opposition party to the majority Socialists, whose leaders support the new surveillance policy.

According to Article 13 of the new law, French government agencies will be able to request connection data from telecom operators and Internet companies transmitted in real time, including location information from mobile phones.

The grounds on which the government may carry out such surveillance have been expanded to include not only national security and counter-terrorism, but also to protect "the scientific and economic potential of France" and "fight criminality".

Hollande's government argued Article 13 was needed to clear up a legal gray area and actually grants stronger civil rights protections to individuals.

Critics, which include the MEDEF, France's biggest business lobby, worry the measures will undermine confidence in Internet services such as cloud computing and email.

(Reporting by Gwenaelle Barzic,; writing by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)

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