In France, a major surveillance strategy is currently under way. However, tech companies are loudly complaining that such tactics, should they continue, will lead to a nanny state. At the moment, seven big companies, which include three web hosting/tech companies, have formally stated that should the surveillance continue, they will leave the country. IDS, Gandi and OVH are the three companies ready to leave, but many others may follow in their footsteps. Together, seven companies have sent a letter to Manuel Valls, Prime Minister of the country, saying that a forced exile is right around the corner for them.
The French are considering a “Real time capture of data,” compliments of the country’s intelligence departments. This strategy includes installing “black boxes” on networks. However, the protestors claim that this will “destroy a major segment of the economy.” Should it happen, the companies will “move our infrastructure, investments and employees where our customers will want to work with us.” Currently, the companies boast a foreign customer base of 30-40 percent. These foreign customers prefer to work with French companies since there is not a Patriot Act in the country. In the US, the Patriot Act makes big phone record collection legal.
Keeping Records Secure
The proposed French “projet de loi relatif au renseignement” makes it legal for the government to have real time phone records should they be potentially linked to terrorist activities. However, “potentially” makes it technically possible for any and all records to be kept and pored over. Records, under the Act, can be retained for up to five years. While the bill was already under consideration, the Charlie Hebdo incident put it on the fast track to getting passed. After 12 people were killed and many more were injured, the proposal skyrocketed in popularity.
However, even before the attacks, Valls called the law necessary. According to the Prime Minister, France is staring down an “unprecedented terrorist threat.” He says, “There cannot be a lawless zone in the digital space.” During a press conference on March 19, 2015, he pointed out that the existing laws on surveillance have not been updated since 1991. This, of course, was well before today’s technology existed and today’s threats are happening with little defenses.
However, a number of privacy groups say the proposal has “serious flaws.” There is relatively little judicial governance according to naysayers as well as unreasonably long periods of retention. The Human Rights Watch general counsel Dinah PoKempner says, “Though the goal of the bill is to place France’s surveillance practices under the rule of law, it in fact uses law to clothe a naked expansion of surveillance powers.” Currently, debates continue and a final decision should happen before the end of 2015.
For web hosts and other tech companies based in France, it is quite likely that they will move offshore in order to continue best serving their customers—including those in the US. Privacy is a major concern for clients, and if France is moving into a similar sphere as the US, web hosts stand a chance of losing half (or more) of their customer base.