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French Lawmakers Scrambling Over News of NSA Surveillance (Le Monde, France)


"Digital Economy Minister Fleur Pellerin spoke of 'great concern for our citizens and businesses,' but was hardly clear when asked her about France's possible diplomatic response to this affair. ... France is torn between two requirements: promoting the tremendous promise of exploiting personal data for business growth, while ensuring its protection. ... MPs were told: 'We're dealing with personal data that has an economic value ... this is recent. The current legal framework dates from 1995, a time when Internet didn't even exist.'"


By Martin Untersinger


Translated By Katarzyna Wisniewska


June 14, 2013


France – Le Monde – Original Article (French)

On the firing line: France Minister for the Digital Economy Fleur Pellerin heard lots of questions but had few answers for members of the French Parliament on Tuesday, after news broke of the National Security Agency's global surveillance of the Internet and telephone calls.

FRANCE 24 VIDEO: Examining one of the biggest intelligence leaks in American history, June 11, 00:08:11RealVideo

Tuesday's National Assembly debate on protecting personal data on the Internet was long planned [June 11]. But the burgeoning case of Internet surveillance revealed on June 6 by The Guardian and The Washington Post gave it a special tone.


Questioned by a dozen lawmakers, if Minister for the Digital Economy Fleur Pellerin spoke of "great concern for our citizens and businesses," she was hardly clear when MP Laure de la Raudière (UMP) asked her about France's possible diplomatic response to this affair.


More generally, although concern and suspicion about surveillance networks was indeed present during MP's questions and answers with the minister, the participants were obliged to address broader issues. The agenda for protecting personal data is in fact jam-packed: a draft E.U. regulation on the subject is under study, and the government has announced a Digital Technology Act of 2014, which should include a focus on protecting personal data - a promise made by François Hollande during his campaign for the presidency.


There is a consensus among lawmakers and the executive that personal data regulation is outdated. In findings summarized by Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, president of the National Commission on Data Processing and Freedoms (CNIL), MPs were told: "We're dealing with personal data that has an economic value ... this is recent. The legal framework dates from 1995 [an E.U. directive], a time when Internet didn't even exist." Pellerin also pointed out the "vague" nature of the directive, in particular in its geographical scope.




Given this situation, the room for maneuver for national lawmakers on an issue for which borders have little meaning, is exceedingly small. The digital economy minister got the hint, which explains why she said, "the E.U. regulation will impact the Digital Technology Act of 2014." Lionel Tardy, MP from Haute-Savoie (UMP), regrets that the parliamentary debate came so late "in the session" when E.U. negotiations are so far advanced.


The French government is also opposed to Europe on one essential point: the draft regulation currently provides that a citizen wishing to assert their rights vis-à-vis their personal data must turn to the regulator of the territory where the offending company originates. This is a provision that would encourage businesses to locate  where the regulator has the fewest resources, warned MP Patrice Martin-Lalande (UMP). The French government advocates a measure whereby citizens may turn to their local Commission on Data Processing and Freedoms office.




Lawmakers and the CNIL chairman have also repeatedly emphasized the intensity of the lobbying that takes place in Brussels around the framework of the draft regulation on personal data.

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One of the concessions lobbyists are trying to acquire beyond the scope of the regulation, particularly those of the Internet giants, has to do with "depersonalized" data, that is to say, free of the user's name. For Isabelle Attard, European MP for Calvados (Europe Ecology - The Greens), another point of tension is that connecting a real name to a database containing telephone conversations is like "child's play" and that any promise of anonymity is "dishonest." CNIL President Falque-Pierrotin also warned against an "unwinding of personal data protection."




France is also torn between two requirements: promoting the tremendous promise of exploiting personal data for business growth, while ensuring its protection. "One must protect personal rights while not interfering with the economy," concluded MP Charles Angelo Ginesy (UMP) of the Alpes-Maritimes.


CNIL President Falque-Pierrotin, for her part, doesn't seem to know how to resolve the dilemma. "European companies should not be disadvantaged in relation to others on the pretext that they obey the law, but citizens' data should not be transferred anywhere," she explained.


So when one after the other, socialist MPs Laurence Dumont and then Christian Paul raised the possibility of amending the Constitution to protect personal data, the digital economy minister judged the idea "complicated," fearing "solidifying principles that would prevent business innovation in a world where technology is changing rapidly."




Ideas, fuzzy for most, were nevertheless raised during the debate. For example, Patrice Martin-Lalande put forward the "comparative advantage" that could draw the attention of consumers to French and European companies, who would be more respectful of privacy than their competitors.

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Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin suggested that the right to portability, that is to say, the ability for users to recover data left on a particular service, a provision under the E.U. regulation, be integrated into the Digital Technology Act of 2014 to "reintroduce a form of competition." She also advocated that digital technology education - "the first line of protection and control" - be declared a national priority.


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Posted By Worldmeets.US June 14, 2013, 10:09am