On July 30, 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron signed into law a recently adopted bill on terrorism prevention and intelligence gathering.
- The ability of local prefects to establish special protection perimeters around places and/or events deemed particularly vulnerable to a terrorist attack, such as concerts or sports events.
- The ability of the government to close places of worship where terrorism, hatred, or discrimination is promoted.
- The ability of the government to establish “individual monitoring and surveillance measures” against individuals who present a “particularly serious” threat of terrorism.
- The ability of local prefects, upon authorization from a judge, to order law enforcement officials to conduct searches of any place when there is a “serious reason to believe” that a terrorism suspect frequents that place.
This law also adds new features to those measures, along with making them permanent. In addition to being able to close places of worship where terrorism, hatred, or discrimination is promoted, the government will be able to close spaces affiliated with these places of worship. Furthermore, terrorism convicts deemed especially dangerous will be subject to “judicial measures of rehabilitation and of prevention of terrorist recidivism.” These measures, which will be decided by a court at the end of an individual’s prison term, can include the obligation to reside in a certain place, attend interviews by a judge, and attend social, health, educational, or psychological support programs. These measures can be ordered only for individuals who were sentenced to five years or more of prison for acts related to terrorism.
The new law also contains several provisions on intelligence services. In particular, it aims to amend and update a 2015 law on surveillance and intelligence services to adapt it to new technologies and modes of communication used by terrorists. Under the new legislation, French intelligence services will be able, on an experimental basis, to intercept satellite communications. This part of the law is to sunset on July 31, 2025, but the government is to submit a report to Parliament evaluating this measure at least six months before this date.
In addition, the new law authorizes intelligence agencies to use algorithms to scan internet connection and browsing data to detect possible terrorist activity. This use of algorithms was initially authorized in the 2015 law mentioned earlier, but in a provision that was scheduled to sunset on December 31, 2021. With this new law, the French Parliament has permanently authorized the use of algorithms to detect possible terrorist activity.
The new law additionally requires electronic communications operators to keep, for a period of one year, technical data that would allow the identification of connection sources as well as technical data on the terminal equipment used.
The new law also allows the government to scramble the signal of drones to prevent them from flying over certain areas, such as over large crowd gatherings or areas where they are not allowed to fly.
Finally, article 25 of the new law restricts access to national security archives. While archived national security documents become publicly accessible after a default period of 50 years, the new law increases the number of exceptions for documents deemed particularly sensitive. Furthermore, some documents will become publicly accessible only after they are deemed by the government to have lost their “operational value,” even if that is after 50 years.
On July 22, 2021, after the bill had been adopted by both houses of the French Parliament, a group of 120 senators asked the Conseil constitutionnel (Constitutional Council), the institution in charge of reviewing the constitutionality of laws in France, to examine certain parts of the bill. The Conseil constitutionnel rendered its decision on July 30, 2021, and found most of the provisions it was asked to review to be constitutional. However, the Conseil constitutionnel struck down provisions that would have required that individuals who spent at least five years in prison for crimes related to terrorism be monitored and surveilled for two years after the end of their sentence, instead of one year under current law. Additionally, the Council found that the provisions on national security archives were constitutionally valid only if interpreted to apply solely to documents that would reveal information that was not otherwise publicly inaccessible.
President Macron signed the bill into law, minus the provisions struck by the Conseil constitutionnel, on July 30, 2021.