The New French Bill Against Terrorism

On June the 3rd 2021, the bill to “prevent acts of terrorism and (reinforce) French Security services” was voted by the French National Assembly. The text acceptedin its first reading, must now be adopted by the Senate, the second chamber of French parliament.

While the government has been working on the bill for some months, the murder in April of this year of a policewoman in Rambouillet by a radicalized individual, accelerated its finalization. It is the last one of a series of controversial bills because of their hindrances to civil liberties, such as the Law on “Republican Values” (previously know as law against ‘islamic Separatism”), or the Global Security Law.

Anticipate radicalization and accompany deradicalization

If the law is adopted, it i will have significant social consequences. It will make temporary measures implemented during the state of emergency (from 2015 to 2017) definitive and therefore raise questions on limitation of civil liberties. It contains concrete measures aiming at fighting against terrorism and better preventing violent attacks on the French soil. It proposes a global approach of counter terrorism to contain radicalization up and downstream. For example, procedures would be set up to accompany (and monitor) the social reinsertion of former prisoners in order to avoid recidivism. Even after their release from prison, these individuals would have to report to the police station, to reside within an approved area, and could receive home visits by security officers.

The bill also addresses the gathering of private data, especially online data through social-media with the help of artificial intelligence and algorithm. Such policies are justified by the evolution of terrorism itself and the necessity for the security services to adapt.

However, the bill has raised criticism.

Political reactions so far

The presidential majority of Emmanuel Macron has posited itself as a middle of the road party: neither right nor left. The bill however is described by the left wing as “liberticidal” , while the right parties see it as too “lenient”.

Historians and archivists have also expressed concern because of article 19 of the bill which proposes the duration of archives’ declassification to be extended. Currently, the length of time for declassification of official and security documents is 50 years. After this period the classified documents can be consulted by French citizens upon request. This classification period could be applied to intelligence documents (for instance information on military bases, security data, etc.) if they present “an operational value” in the eyes of the state administration. As a result, there is a risk of “lock-in” or embargo of information, detrimental to historical and social research. The association of historians and archivists have denounced this article as “anti-democratic” because it reduces the access to administration and security archives hence limiting the research and public debate on controversial periods of French society.

The French State Council, (which is the French equivalent of the US Supreme Court), will examine the law to assess its compliance to constitutional principles, which gives reasons for concern to the Presidential majority, since the Council rejected a similar law in 2020.

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