France’s government pressed a surveillance bill Thursday that would give French intelligence services legal backing to vacuum up metadata in hopes of preventing an imminent terror attack.
The measure has already prompted an outcry from some privacy advocates, human rights groups and the Paris bar association, despite the government’s efforts to distance itself from U.S.-style mass surveillance.
The bill “would pave the way for extremely intrusive surveillance practices with no judicial pre-authorization,” the organization Amnesty International said in a statement.
The bill presented Thursday was proposed long before the deadly Paris attacks by Islamic extremists earlier this year, but the government says it takes on added urgency with each person who radicalizes and turns against France.
It would notably force communications firms to give intelligence services access to connection data of people suspected of involvement with terrorist groups. Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve went to San Francisco last month to discuss the measure with Internet giants including Google, Facebook and Twitter.
Read: 5 Ways to Boost Your Privacy Online
France’s parliament starts debating the bill next month.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the measures would be restricted under the law, their execution monitored by an independent nine-person panel, and — in the case of metadata — would not include personal information. Instead, the metadata would be analyzed automatically using algorithms.
“These are legal tools, but not tools of exception, nor of generalized surveillance of citizens. There will not be a French Patriot Act”, Valls said in a news conference following the Cabinet meeting.
The prime minister stressed that only half of French citizens who left for Syria were flagged beforehand. “Facing increasing jihadist threats, we must strengthen the effectiveness of the surveillance of terrorists”, he said.
The bill notably aims at giving French intelligence services a legal framework for the use high-tech tools — already in operation — such as location trackers for cars or devices that intercept nearby mobile phones. The country’s previous surveillance law was passed in 1991, before mobile phones and the Internet, Valls recalled.
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