Cloud services targeted as French Senate enlarges police search powers

French lawmakers have extended the duration and scope of the state of emergency declared after the terrorist attacks of Nov. 13

Three more months of extraordinary police powers, and the extension of warrantless searches to include cloud storage services accessible from computers in France: Those were among the changes voted unanimously by French senators Friday in response to the shootings and suicide bombings in and around Paris on Nov. 13.

In the hours following the attacks, President François Hollande declared a state of emergency, allowing police authorities to restrict the movement of people and vehicles, forbid public gatherings, close bars and theaters, put people under house arrest, and conduct searches without a warrant from a judge.

Once declared, the state of emergency can last for up to 12 days, unless extended by law.

On Friday, senators voted to prolong it for another three months, unanimously adopting a text voted Thursday morning by the French National Assembly that also extends some police powers and curtails others for this and all future declarations of a state of emergency. Because the text was unamended, it will not be debated by a joint committee of the two chambers of the French parliament, although its constitutionality may still be examined by the Constitutional Council before it becomes law.

Among the changes voted is an extension of the scope of warrantless searches to include not just electronic devices on the premises searched, but also data held in other systems accessible from those devices, a definition that could include cloud services for which a password is stored on the device. Police are authorized to make a copy of such data, whether held locally or remotely.

Digital rights association La Quadrature du Net warned that another provision of the law, allowing police authorities to dissolve organizations that "take part in committing acts that seriously endanger the public order or whose activities facilitate or encourage committing such acts" could threaten many associations promoting the use of encryption technologies, which may be used by criminals but also by innocent citizens.

Governments around the world have used the latest attacks to call for limits on encryption tools that terrorists are reportedly using to communicate securely

Others, meanwhile, say that the right to use encryption is an important freedom when governments are granting themselves extraordinary powers to invade privacy.

No evidence has yet been presented that the terrorists in Paris used encryption to hamper detection or investigation of the attacks. It was apparently communications in the clear that led investigators to a terrorist hideout raided by heavily armed police on Wednesday morning. 

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Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
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