France toughens antiterror laws
PARIS, France -- France's parliament has adopted tougher antiterrorism measures that give police the right to search cars and access private phone calls and e-mail.
The new controls were approved in reaction to the September 11 terror attacks, the government arguing that dramatic action was required.
"There is a 'before September 11' and an 'after September 11,"' Interior Minister Daniel Vaillant told deputies.
"The size of the attacks and the new form they took made our societies realise that no one was safe from terrorist attacks and that there is no sanctuary."
The 13 antiterrorist measures, which form part of a wider ranging bill on security, passed all hurdles in French parliament when the National Assembly adopted the package on Wednesday.
They will be in force until the end of 2003.
The strengthened laws will allow police to search car boots, on the instructions of a prosecutor, in terrorist inquiries. Until now cars were off-limits to police.
The amendments also allow bag-searching and body searches at places such as airports, stadiums and stores, and enable police to carry out nighttime searches in storage spaces and garages during preliminary investigations. Previously, they had to wait until 6 a.m.
The plan also allows investigative judges to demand that phone or Internet companies save wiretapped conversations and Internet data for up to a year.
Green Party polticians, who voted against the moves, and Communists, who abstained, condemned the measures as an attack on civil liberties.
"The Greens are worried that the law is useless, ineffective and an attack on individual liberties," said Green Party lawmaker Noel Mamere, the movement's candidate for presidential elections in 2002.
France has been concerned about an attack by Islamic militants on French soil with the U.S. Embassy in Paris named as a target.
Nine people have been arrested on suspicion of plotting terrorist attacks and being linked to being linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
The arrest in the United Arab Emirates last month of French-Algerian Djamel Beghal was seen as a major breakthrough for French antiterrorism investigators.
Intelligence sources close to investigators in the UAE say that, under days of interrogation, Beghal told of planned attacks in France, including the U.S. Embassy in Paris, as well as details of terrorist cells operating in Paris and Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Officials worried that the September 11 attacks could have repercussions in France and immediately put in place a broad set of antiterrorism measures it calls "Vigipirate" to check identity papers and investigate suspicious activity.
Security has been especially tight in the Paris region, where several thousand of extra soldiers and police have been deployed.
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French National Assembly
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