The French parliament passed a new surveillance bill on Tuesday with 438 votes to 86, citing the intention to protect French society against terrorism.
The new surveillance law provides the French government the power to form a National Commission with 13 members in order to manage the surveillance process.
With the permission of this commission, the government can wiretap phones, read emails and retriever the private information of citizens from internet companies just like the National Security Agency (NSA) in the Unites States.
The new surveillance bill also allows the government to place hidden microphones in cars and private places as well as place bugs in computers and mobile phones for spying.
The bill covers both French citizens and foreigners who have relations with France.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that the reason for preparing the bill is protecting French citizens from terrorist attacks.
“The last intelligence law was done in 1991, when there were neither cellphones nor Internet,” he said.
“The means of surveillance for anticipating, detecting and prevention of attacks will be strictly limited.”
The head of the Paris Bar association Pierre-Olivier Sur criticised the extensive surveillance features of the bill. He worries that the government can use the bill to spy on any action which can be “potentially dangerous.”
“It is a state lie, this project was presented to us as a way to protect France against terrorism, and if that were the case, I would back it. But it is being done to put in place a sort of Patriot Act of the US concerning the activities of each and everyone” he said.
Although the newspaper Charlie Hebdo was a target in a past terrorist attack, its editor in chief Gérard Biard is also against the surveillance bill.
“I think we already have a lot of laws, and with these laws, if they’re used correctly, you can fight and you can fight terrorism. So I understand the government, you have to do something. The easiest thing to do is to invoke a law. But maybe it’s a mistake, because if this law is not correct, if this law is not fair, it’s not the right answer” he said.
Human right groups, lawyers, and Internet companies protested the bill as Prime Minister Valls presented it personally to the National Assembly.
The French government saw the bill as a means of national defence and preventing terrorism, as well as protecting France’s territory’s integrity.
The bill will also be used to fight organised crime and protect economic interests.
The French lawmakers prepared the surveillance bill after the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a kosher grocery story in Paris in January. The attacks resulted in 17 deaths and led to widespread civil protests across the country.