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French Constitutional Council validates computer search without warrant

27 March, 2003

The French Constitutional Council recently validated the Internal Safety Law ('Loi sur la sécurité intérieure'), adopted by the Parliament on February 13. This decision has been commented by the Human Rights League - LDH, the French member of the International Human Rights Federation - as a 'step backwards for the rule of law'.

Among the many provisions infringing privacy and other human rights, one authorizes the immediate access by Law Enforcement Authorities to the computer data of Telecommunications Operators, including Internet Access Providers, as well as of almost any public or private institute, organization or company. The second important measure authorizes the searching without warrant of any information system, provided that its data are accessible through the network from a computer being searched with a warrant (e.g. all computers in a P2P network may now be searched on the basis of a single warrant for one of them). If the data are stored in a computer located in a foreign country, then their access remains subject to applicable international agreements.

Agreement on cyber-attacks harms freedom of expression

12 March, 2003

The Justice ministers of the EU countries (by means of the Council of the European Union) have agreed on a decision to harmonize the criminal code in EU countries regarding attacks on information systems.

The ministers agree that "there is evidence of attacks against information systems, in particular as a result of the threat from organised crime, and increasing concern at the potential of terrorist attacks against information systems which form part of the critical infrastructure of the Member States." The proposal forces EU members states to make 'illegal access to information systems' and 'illegal system interference' a crime.

The proposal is widely criticized for being unbalanced. Especially regarding illegal system interference (denial of service attacks) it does not distinguish between a terrorist that intends to inflict harm or a non-violent protester that causes a system overload through email protests or virtual sit-ins. The proposal does not refer to freedom of expression or other fundamental rights and can have serious consequences for political protest and campaigning on the internet.

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