France's lower house of parliament yesterday passed an amendment that would levy penalties against technology companies that do not provide access to encrypted data during terrorism investigations. The amendment, which has the support of right-wing politicians but is opposed by the socialist government of President François Hollande, was approved as part of a broader bill aimed at combatting terrorism and organized crime. The National Assembly will vote on the entire bill on March 8th, before debate moves on to the Senate later this month.
The debate surrounding encryption and national security has intensified in France following Apple's refusal to comply with an FBI order to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters. France dramatically expanded the government's surveillance powers following terrorist attacks in January and November of last year, and is currently under a state of emergency that has come under criticism for violating civil liberties. The bill debated this week aims to reform judicial processes for terrorism-related cases.
Supporters say it's a "realistic sanction."
Under the amendment passed yesterday, any private technology company that does not provide access to encrypted data would face a fine of €350,000 ($385,000) and up to five years in jail. Telecoms that do not cooperate with investigations would face smaller fines, and up to two years in jail. On Thursday, French lawmakers rejected a proposal that called for broader sanctions, including sales bans, against tech firms that do not decrypt communications. The rejected amendment also would have allowed the government to fine Apple and other tech companies €1 million for not cooperating with intelligence agencies.
Speaking before the National Assembly yesterday, center-right politician Philippe Goujon described the approved amendment as a "realistic sanction," arguing that it clearly establishes "the criminal responsibility of encryption key makers who refuse to cooperate" with authorities. Socialist Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas said he supported the intent of the amendment but raised questions about its legal basis, saying that increasing penalties only for terrorism-related crimes would create inconsistencies in the French penal code, Le Monde reports. Urovas called on parliamentarians to work out any inconsistencies as debate on the broader legislative package continues.