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French surveillance bill will affect organisations as well as individuals, says expert

A new anti-terror surveillance law being proposed to the French parliament will affect businesses as well as individuals in France, says Paris-based Diane Mullenex of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com. 

The surveillance bill, le projet de loi relatif au renseignement (link in French), allows the government's law enforcement and intelligence agencies to monitor telephone and cellular metadata and access personal information about anyone suspected of being linked to terrorism.

Its wording is very broad, and includes "major industrial and scientific interests of France" as being potentially related to terrorism, bringing business "into the heart of the law", Mullenex said.

It's reasonable to suggest that the new powers could be used by the government in situations such as the purchase of French companies by foreign buyers, Mullenex said.

The French government's recent intervention in the proposed sale of video-sharing site Dailymotion to Hong-Kong based PCCW was an example of where problems could arise, she said. If the government has access to a company's telecommunications data, it could put pressure on the business from the start of negotiations, she said.

"The wording allows a very broad definition of this law," she said.

The bill has been pushed through in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack, Mullenex said.

Telecommunications providers would be required to incorporate what critics are calling "black box" algorithms in their systems, "piloted by an artificial intelligence and able to capture everything that happens on the Internet," and to give personal data to the intelligence services when someone is under suspicion, Mullenex said.

The law has been strongly criticised in France by civil liberties groups, Mullenex said.

"Many powers that were previously limited the judicial police are now available to the intelligence services, who are not supervised by the Criminal Procedure Code that covers the police," she said.

"No one will know that they are being listened to, or that it had ever happened," she said.

Telecoms companies have threatened to leave France due to the proposed bill, saying that it puts the entire French population under surveillance, ZDNet said.

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