After weeks of debate, the French parliament has approved a sweeping surveillance bill, aimed at monitoring the phone calls and emails of suspected terrorists. The bill was introduced in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, and critics say it will seriously curtail the country's civil liberties. Under the new system, a nine-person committee will oversee the surveillance operations, which are led by the prime minister, but the committee only has the power to advise the prime minister, not to overrule him. As a result, many privacy groups say surveillance power will be dangerously centralized in the wake of the new law.
In 2013, Le Monde reported on a number of similar programs, described as akin to the NSA's PRISM program. The systems reportedly collected bulk telephone metadata along with private traffic from Google, Microsoft, and others. Officials denied any illegal or improper activity, saying, "French citizens are not subject to massive and permanent spying outside of all control." France is not a member of the US-led Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group, and the Snowden leaks turned up little evidence of the country collaborating with US or UK intelligence-gathering efforts.
Still, the new bill shows a number of tactics that seem cribbed from the NSA, including bulk collection of internet metadata, which would allow the government to track French citizens from site to site. Prime Minister Manuel Valls has denied the similarities — stating plainly, "This is not a French Patriot Act," but privacy groups disagree, saying the bill would give too much power to the intelligence services. "Suddenly, you're in a system where the government has full power, full control over intelligence services," the non-profit group Privacy International told The Verge in April. "If we learn anything from history it's that giving full power to governments on surveilling citizens is really not a good idea."