‘Digital Snitch’ — Govt Can Remotely Activate Cell Phone Cameras and Microphones, Says French Senate

A woman uses a smartphone in front of a laptop on April 3, 2019, in Abidjan. - According t
ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP via Getty Images

The French Senate has approved a bill that would allow the state to spy on certain individuals using microphones and cameras installed on their own devices.

A bill handing French authorities the right to spy on certain individuals using cameras and microphones embedded in private electronic devices has passed its first reading in the French Senate, causing uproar amongst elements of the country’s political class.

The bill will grant relevant authorities the ability to remotely activate cameras within the likes of laptops and smartphones without the user’s permission or even knowledge.

According to a report by Le Figaro, the bill restricts the use of such methods for individuals suspected of being involved in specific types of crime, including “terrorism, delinquency and organized crime”.

Even with such restrictions, however, many within the country’s opposition have expressed serious concern about the provision of these new powers.

Guy Benarroche, a senator serving within the French Greens, said that the measure effectively leaves “the door open to widespread surveillance” in France.

Meanwhile, an NGO in the country dedicated to fighting for digital freedoms expressed dismay that the law would effectively turn every device a person owns into a digital “snitch”.

To make matters worse, the bill also includes a provision granting the state the power to use geolocation data on a person’s device to track their movement, though the Senate has reportedly applied an amendment meaning that such a power can only be applied to people suspected of a crime worth 10 years or more in prison.

This is far from the first time that France has tried to erode digital privacy in the country, with the Macron government previously pushing for both Google and Apple to abandon various privacy protections during the COVID pandemic in order to bolster state-sponsored surveillance.

More recently, the country has announced that it intends to use a complex system of surveillance cameras armed with A.I. to monitor crowds during the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, with the government hoping that the system would help spot “terrorist acts or serious breaches of security” quickly.

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