French Minister Uses Non-Existent Benefits to Sell LOPPSI 2 Legislation

LOPPSI 2, the surveillance legislation in France, has been making headlines recently given that the legislation has re-entered political debate in recent weeks. The Interior Minister reportedly was out in the media telling everyone that one of the benefits of LOPPSI 2 is that it would stop cell phone theft in its tracks. Critics point to one tiny little problem with that sales-pitch – it doesn’t exist in the legislation in its current form and blocking stolen phones is already possible.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

LOPPSI 2 is a piece of French legislation that would make it legal for police to upload malware to suspected criminals and file-sharers alike without a court order without the users knowledge. When the story broke in 2009, it, at minimum, raised a few eyebrows. Many were quick to blast the legislation, saying that the legislation goes way too far.

More recently, the legislation was back in the public spotlight in France and the Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux recently went in to the media to sell the benefits of LOPPSI 2 (Google Translation):

“Given that, I decided to take several measures,” he announced. Among them, a measure “very important is that in the context of Loppsi 2, to be finally adopted at the end of the year, we change the system phones. Until now, when there had a phone stolen, they could block the SIM card. Now we can lock the phone. ”

“That means it will be much less attractive, naturally, to steal a phone. That’s what happened 20 years ago with the radios. There were thefts of car radios, and we found ways techniques to discourage. ”

In short, if LOPPSI 2 is passed, it would make stealing cell-phones/smart phones/iPhones less attractive because companies can then block the SIM cards and lock down the phone.

Numerama, a French news site covering the story, points out that there is one problem with this comment, LOPPSI 2, in its current form, doesn’t even discuss the theft of portable phones. Instead, there would have to be an amendment put in to make this purported benefit true.

Another critic of the legislation pointed out (Google translation) that the blocking of SIM cards on stolen phones is already possible in the first place.

So even if an amendment was introduced in to LOPPSI 2, there wouldn’t be any added benefit on this front in the first place.

Whether or not you are a fan of such intrusive surveillance laws, it’s very hard to defend such a style of selling a law to the public. Trying to tell people of non-existent benefits of a proposed law is, at best, showing a sense of general ignorance to laws you helped to create in the first place and, at worse, is pushing a direct lie out in to the public. If you’re going to sell the law to the public based on benefits, you’d think it is best to sell it on benefits that are actually in the legislation.

We know all about what happens when lawmakers try and sell legislation they appear to know little about. Jim Prentice, when he was trying to sell Bill C-61, Canada’s copyright legislation that ultimately died on the order-paper, kept telling Search Engine that a lot of what was being asked was “very technical” and wound up hanging up in the middle of the interview. Experts suggested that this was the result of the then minister not understanding the very bill he was in charge of. One thing is for sure, it didn’t help him ease tensions amongst Canadians over the contentious “digital locks” or anti-circumvention law controversy. While the countries and political situations are more than likely different between Canada’s Bill C-61 and France’s current LOPPSI 2, it’s not a stretch to suggest that the benefits of not knowing what is in the very legislation you are selling to local voters are similarly absent in both cases.

Given that the French government has already forced the issue on the passage of the three strikes law (AKA HADOPI), I would say that the situation in France with regards to LOPPSI 2 is more distressing given that Canada is currently in a minority government situation – meaning that if the opposition isn’t happy with what is being tabled, it can be voted down because there are more representatives in opposition than in the governing party.

It remains to be seen what effect this will have on the overall privacy and surveillance debate in France though. It’s unlikely that this revelation will quiet criticism towards the government though.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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