Throughout the debate on the new surveillance law, passed today by the Assemblée Nationale, the government repeatedly insisted that this was "not a French version of the Patriot Act." Perhaps not. If anything, it grants even more sweeping powers to French intelligence services than the Patriot Act did to their American counterparts. Under the Patriot Act there is at least a semblance--a fig leaf--of independent judicial control by the FISA court, even if that court exercises its nominal powers only once in a blue moon. In France, the only oversight will be administrative: the intelligence services will control themselves. The refrain of "not another Patriot Act" seems to indicate a guilty conscience more than anything else.
I am not a zealot on privacy protection. I prefer intelligence-gathering by electronic means to military intervention as a response to terrorism. I deplore the confusion of anti-terrorist police work with warfare. But the watchers need to be watched, in view of the immense intrusive powers they have developed with the aid of modern communications technology. France, in its understandable desire to respond swiftly and effectively to the January attacks, has over-reacted, just as the US did after 9/11. This is unfortunate, and France will probably come to regret it.