The French parliament recently approved an anti-terrorism bill that grants authorities the power to search homes, close places of worship and restrict movement. The new law makes permanent various measures that were imposed under the state of emergency following the November 2015 Paris attacks.
The state of emergency imposed after the attacks extended the power of police and security forces, granting them the ability to proceed with many decisions without seeking a judge’s approval. The emergency law expires on Nov. 1, prompting lawmakers to take action to solidify its measures.
The lower house of Parliament overwhelmingly approved the bill with a vote of 415 to 127, with 19 abstentions.
President Emmanuel Macron promised to pass the law during his election campaign and in a major speech on security, he said that it would allow authorities to combat terrorism “without abandoning our values and principles.”
Debate about the law has put the balance between security and respect for civil liberties into question. Right-wing parties have called for tougher measures, whereas left-wing parties argue that the proposals go too far.
“The concentration of powers in the hands of the executive and weakening of judicial oversight is not a new characteristic of France’s counter-terrorism effort,” France Director for Human Rights Watch Bénédicte Jeannerod told French news sources. “But the normalization of emergency powers crosses a new line.”
What the law enforces
The main aspects of the law deal with house arrest, home searches, places of worship, security zones, border checks and wiretapping.
Under the new law, the Minister of the Interior, Gérard Collomb, can place suspected jihadist sympathisers under a loose form of house arrest. This power extends over those who are not accused of a specific crime.
“We’re still in a state of war,” Collomb told parliament, warning of a “very serious threat” level.
Part of “individual surveillance measures,” those suspected are allowed to leave their homes, but must remain in the boundaries of their town or city. They must also report to the police once a day. Those who wish to travel outside of their home towns must wear an electronic bracelet.
Local police chiefs must ask a judge for a warrant to search the homes of people with suspected terror links. When their home is searched, the suspected individual can be held for four hours. During this time, any documents, data and objects can be seized.
In each of France’s regions, the top government official can order for mosques, churches and other places of worship to be closed for six months if preachers are found to have encouraged attacks or glorified terrorism.
Places of worship can be closed on the basis of the “ideas and theories” circulated among devotees and investigators are not required to provide proof of radical preaching or writings. Non-compliance with the ordered closure would result in a three-year prison sentence and a fine of 45,000 euros.
Authorities can also create security zones, in which they seal off areas around a location or event that they deem vulnerable to attack. Those who want to enter the security zone must be searched by the police or private security guards.
One of the most controversial elements of the law is that police will be granted more powers to carry out stop-and-search operations in border areas. Many civil rights groups fear that this increased power will be primarily used against migrants and Muslims.
In addition, the law expands the scope of identity checks to include train stations and territory up to 10 kilometers around international ports and airports.
Intelligence agencies are permitted to continue using algorithms to tap into phone and email communications in order to detect suspicious behavior. The new law also allows security services to access the travel data of airline passengers, a directive implemented by the EU.
The most disciplinary elements of the law will be annually reviewed by parliament and are scheduled to lapse at the end of 2020.
Information for this article was obtained from france24.com, rfi.fr and economictimes.indiatimes.com