The Big Brother Fantasy Comes True
This article by Philippe Jannet appeared in Le Monde on April 20, 2007. Many French websites mentioned it, but it was largely overshadowed by the election. Since the article is very long, it had to be abridged and condensed:
Discreetly, on the periphery of the campaign, the government is preparing a decree which, if applied, would kill the Internet such as it exists in France. The fact is that, on the pretext of monitoring Internet users more closely, a binding decree on the application of the law on privacy in the digital industry, passed on June 21, 2004, requires that website administrators, web hosts, telephone companies for both stationary and mobile phones and Internet access providers, save all traces of the users and subscribers, for the purpose of turning this information over to the police or to the State, on a simple request.
Note: The above may be confusing. Apparently the basic law on privacy was passed on June 21, 2004, but it was not as severe as this new decree that is being added.
Beyond the incredible cost that such a requirement would represent, this measure would only unleash an immediate suspicion on the part of the French people toward their telephone, and toward the French Internet leaders, destroying immediately the French digital industry that our dear candidates have described as of strategic importance.
The decree being prepared expresses the "Big Brother" fantasy: to know everything about everybody, even the impossible. According to its wording, telephone companies, Internet access providers, web hosts, and those in charge of online services (websites, blogs, etc...) would have to keep for one year at their own expense all the coordinates and invisible traces that users leave behind when they subscribe to a phone company or to the Internet, when they move about with their mobile phone turned on, when they make a call or connect to the Internet, when they send or consult an article online, or a photo, or a video, and when they make a contribution to a blog.
In substance, the following are to be preserved: passwords, pseudos, confidential access codes and other identifiers, credit card numbers, details of any payment made, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, postal addresses, serial numbers of computers and telephones, the means of accessing a network, the time and date of each call, of each connection to the Internet, of each an every item consulted, and of each and every contribution made to a website. (...)
... by attempting to preserve the trace of posted material that may be subsequently erased, the decree imposes, ipso facto, a systematic memorization of everything that is posted, modified or erased on the "French Internet." The unanimous opinion of experts is that this is economically and technically impossible. Even the United States under George Bush and the post-September 11 Patriot Act never envisaged such a preservation of data or such strict regulations that would arouse American public opinion today, but go unnoticed in France.
The cost, both legal and economic, of such a setup would be colossal for France. In the event of resistance, or even mere passivity, the penalty incurred is tremendous: the Internet access providers who did not save all this data would be subject to a fine of 375,000 euros and their CEO's to a one-year prison term and 75,000 euros, not counting the closing down of their enterprise, and being barred from any future business activity, etc...
At a secret meeting held on March 8, 2007 by the Ministries of the Interior and of Finance - the Ministry of Justice was once again absent - certain professionals made known that this preservation of data would cost them dearly in terms of digital storage capacity and human resources. From tens of thousands to several million euros per year of net loss. (...)
Note: Apparently the Ministry of Justice has been absent at previous meetings. I cannot elaborate any further.
By making French businesses become agents of the justice system or "informers", the State weakens one whole sector of tomorrow's economy and of today's democracy, since it is favoring the already excessive domination of the great international Internet leaders who won't be affected abroad by this regulation. Until now, only hosts and ISP's were subject to the State's demands, in return for compensation for the cost of close surveillance. But the State has been so stingy in making these payments that many stopped asking for them, and preferred instead to relocate. (...)
There is total confusion of bureaucratic responsibilities. All the data saved would be accessible to the administrative police (intelligence services) as well as to the judicial police (criminal activities) for one year. The administrative requisitions for "preventing terrorism" would also be preserved for one year in the files of the Interior and Defense Ministries. The responses to these requisitions - our traces, in other words - would be preserved for three more years and accessible to the judicial police.
So data that is four years old, could conceivably end up in the hands of a judge examining a case of photo rights, or defamation, or counterfeiting, without those persons implicated by the data knowing the origin of the data or being entitled to object to its use in court. (...)
This proposed decree constitutes a veritable death threat. It is troubling for three main reasons: the cost, the confusion between State intelligence and the justice system, and the risk of becoming such a legal burden that the basic policy of security would lose all meaning. (...)
Philippe Janet is president of GESTE (Groupement des éditeurs de sites en ligne) roughly translated "grouping of online website editors". The group includes Yahoo, Google, French television channels, radio stations, AFP (Agence France Presse), and newspapers such as Le Figaro, Libération, Le Monde, L'Equipe, Le Point, L'Express, Le Nouvel Observateur, and Le Parisien, as well as Hachette Filipacchi Multimedia.
Photo from Fotosearch.