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French MPs approve controversial surveillance bill

media Privacy groups say the bill amounts to a mass intrusion of privacy Reuters/Kacper Pempel/Files

France's parliament has approved new rules on intelligence-gathering which critics say will lead to mass surveillance with little oversight. The anti-terrorism bill was passed in the National Assembly Tuesday with 438 votes; 86 MPs voted against it and 42 abstained.

The text will be reviewed by the senate in June before it can be adopted by the parliament ahead of the summer break.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls had opted for the accelerated legislative procedure to pass the bill after the Paris terrorist attacks in January that left 17 dead at the offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish grocer.

The law would, among other things, allow French agents to intercept phone conversations outside of judicial oversight. It would also let intelligence authorities plug so-called “black boxes” onto internet servers to monitor online traffic and detect suspicious behaviour with the help of algorithms.

Both the government and main opposition parties support the reform. Officials have pointed to the recent foiling of a terrorist plot on a church near Paris as just the latest cause for concern about the gaps in the country’s intelligence.

Civil liberties groups and some French tech companies say the law will give too much power to the state and that there has not been enough debate surrounding the issue.

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