PARIS — French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called Monday for emergency government surveillance powers in case of an exceptional threat, a move prompted by the deadly Paris attacks earlier this year.
In a speech in Parliament, Valls urged a new intelligence bill for extraordinary measures that would be used only "in case of major crisis affecting the citizens' security." The law would allow intelligence services to use surveillance powers without submitting a request to an independent nine-person panel, as normally required.
Lawmakers on Monday started debating a bill aimed at legalizing broad surveillance of terrorism suspects.
The proposal caused an outcry from some privacy advocates, human rights groups, a magistrates' union and the Paris bar association, despite the government's efforts to distance itself from U.S.-style mass surveillance. A group of 10 organizations denounced it Monday in a joint statement as "legalizing highly intrusive surveillance methods" with "no guarantee for individual freedom and privacy protection."
The bill was proposed long before the Paris attacks by Islamic extremists in January. But Valls said it takes on added urgency with each person who is radicalized and turns against France.
The prime minister told Parliament that intelligence services have determined that seven jihadists from France, either French citizens or residents, died in suicide attacks in Syria and Iraq. He added that six of those were newly converted to Islam.
"This is a global threat that we must face," he said.
Valls insisted that the data gathering would be restricted under the law, with its execution monitored by the independent panel.
"It has nothing to do with the practices revealed by Edward Snowden," Valls said, referring to the former National Security Agency systems employee who disclosed U.S. programs that vacuumed up phone call records and electronic communications.
One of the most sensitive measures of the bill would allow intelligence services to vacuum up metadata, which would then be subject to analysis for potentially suspicious behavior. The metadata would be anonymous, but intelligence agents could follow-up with a request to the independent panel for deeper surveillance that could yield the identity of users.