France Set to Allow Police to Spy Through Phones

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French police will be able to spy on suspects by remotely activating the camera, microphone and GPS of their mobile phones, the country's lawmakers have agreed. 

The spying provision, part of a wider justice reform bill, has been attacked from both sides of the party line, with criticisms of becoming 'too authoritarian' and will be open to misuse. Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti insists however, it would affect only "dozens of cases a year."

According to Le Monde, the measure would allow the geolocation of suspects' devices in crimes punishable by at least five years' jail. These devices could also be activated to record audio and video of people suspected of everything from terrorism to delinquency and anti-social behaviour. 

The news comes in the wake of the Nahel Merzouk protests; a series of riots across France following the death of a 17-year-old in Nanterre. The 7 days of civil unrest brought the country to a standstill and saw 2 people dead, 3,300 people arrested and an estimated €1 billion in damages. 

Digital rights group La Quadrature du Net wrote in a May statement that the provisions "raise serious concerns over infringements of fundamental liberties" and that the new powers would violate "the right to security, right to a private life and to correspondence".

 "Our investigation into just what access police have to mobile phones demonstrates a worrying and growing trend of remote surveillance and often warrantless stop and search powers. France's latest bill, which could give police the ability to remotely turn on suspects' cameras, microphones, and GPS, highlights how security agencies around the world are being given more power to snoop on citizens before a crime is committed and with little or no regard for any innocent parties involved. 

"Out of the 50 countries we study, all of them give police some rights to access mobile phones, whether by physically searching them or remotely hacking them. In fact, all of the countries we analysed are known to have access to some type of hacking software, e.g. Cellebrite."

- Rebecca Moody, Head of Data Research at Comparitech

Use of remote spying must be approved by a judge and the total duration of the surveillance cannot exceed six months. People with professions who handle sensitive data, like doctors, journalists, judges, lawyers and MPs are exempt from being targetted. 

The contested measure, part of an article containing several other provisions, was voted through by Assemblée Nationale members as a wider justice overhaul bill making its way through parliament.

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