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France: Legislators Considering New Law to Fight Terrorism

(Sept. 30, 2014) French legislators are currently considering a proposed new law to reinforce the legal arsenal against terrorism. (Projet de loi renforçant les dispositions relatives à la lutte contre leterrorisme [Draft Law to Reinforce Provisions Regarding the Fight Against Terrorism], No. 2110 (July 9, 2014), Assemblée nationale website.) This draft law was adopted by the National Assembly on September 18, 2014, and is now being considered by the Senate. (Projet de loi adopté par l’Assemblée nationale après engagement de la procédure accélérée renforçant les dispositions relatives à la lutte contre le terrorisme [Draft Law Adopted by the National Assembly Under Accelerated Procedure to Reinforce Provisions Regarding the Fight Against Terrorism], No. 807 (Sept. 18, 2014).)

The draft law seeks to broaden the administration’s authority to take preemptive actions against would-be terrorists. This includes measures such as prohibiting individuals from leaving French territory if they are suspected of seeking to join terrorist groups or activities, criminal sanctions against terrorist propaganda or promotion, and the expansion of the concept of “terrorist conspiracy” (entreprise terroriste) to cover the acts of individual “lone wolf” terrorists. (Id.) The proposal does not explicitly mention social media, but is partly meant to fight the spread of terrorist messages and propaganda on sites such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. (Lucie Ronfaut, Les réseaux sociaux dans le viseur du projet de loi antiterroriste [Social Networks in the Crosshairs of the Antiterrorist Law Proposal], LE FIGARO (Sept. 17, 2014).)

Reactions to the Proposal

These proposals have triggered significant controversy. The national daily newspaper Le Monde, for example, published an editorial arguing that the law would severely threaten civil liberties. (Terrorisme: un projet de loi dangereux [Terrorism: a Dangerous Law Proposal], LE MONDE (Sept. 16, 2014).) Much of the criticism focuses on the proposal to allow government authorities to prohibit, without prior judicial hearing, individual citizens from leaving French territory, and on fears that the law would threaten freedom of expression. (Julien Bayou & Thomas Watanabe-Vermorel, Monsieur Cazeneuve, votre loi antiterroriste est antidémocratique [Mr. Cazeneuve, Your Antiterrorist Law is Anti-Democratic], LIBERATION (Sept. 18, 2014).)

Proponents of the bill deny that these measures are anti-democratic and claim that they are proportional and necessary to counter the threat posed by French citizens who travel to places such as Syria in order to join jihadist groups. (Jean-Jacques Urvoas, «Notre projet de loi antiterroriste ne relève pas de l’espionnage à l’américaine» [“Our Antiterrorist Law Proposal Is Not Like American-Style Spying”], LE MONDE (Sept. 18, 2014).)