During a public radio show held in Montpellier (France) on july 20th and hosted by public radio FranceCulture and Le Monde, France’s best known and weightiest newspaper, French State Sec. for Digital Economy Fleur Pellerin announced she was opposed to suveillance technology exports to oppressive regimes.
This shocking announcement, coming from a country known to be among the world’s leaders in mass surveillance technologies, should come as a relief to many living in oppresive regimes. Dictatorships like Syria, Barheim, Morocco, Gabon, Cambodgia, or former oppresive regimes like Libya and Tunisia are all equiped with french mass surveillance technologies.
It should also come as a relief for those fighting for privacy rights in France. In october 2011, before France’s presidential elections, Reflets.info and Owni.fr revealed that mass surveillance technologies where spying on french citizens. A scandal similar to the American NSA domestic spying gear.
In the United States, surveillance technology firms are currently under heavy fire from the administration. President Obama recently announced an executive order allowing U.S. officials to impose sanctions on foreign nationals found to have used new technologies to help carry out grave human rights abuses.
In France, no need for sanctions, since the french government is a major stakeholder in nearly all current french key players in surveillance gear, such as Alcatel (ALU), Thales (TCFP), Bull (BULL) or Orange (FTE). The State Secretary’s announcement should therefore be quickly followed by dramatic effects. The french government could simply stop exporting surveillance gear to oppressive regimes just by imposing its decision to the board of those companies.
Smaller mass surveillance technologies firms like Qosmos, involved in Syria, also recently received heavy investments by the State, not to mention that this French startup is a spinoff coming from UPMC, a major public French university. As of today, UPMC University still benefits financialy from royalties coming from mass surveillance technology patents used by Qosmos.
Are France surveillance technology firms about to change their ways ?
Bull, one of the oldest technology companies in the world, known to have worked on a punch card system aimed at filing jews during world war II, is currently under investigation for complicity in acts of torture in Libya (see Wired’s report). The company should quickly react to State Secretary Fleur Pellerin’s announcement, as she explicitely asked, during the same radio show, for additional evidence held by Reflets.info to be passed to France’s DOJ in order to help the investigation.
Thales, another leader in surveillance technology, recently revealed major management changes and the ousting of Blaise Jaeger, sales manager for Africa and Middle East. But it isn’t clear at this time whereas this is linked to the dramatic strategy shift in France’s digital economy announced by State Sec Fleur Pellerin or not. Thales is also a hudge business partner for Amesys, a Bull subsidiary.
Such a deep move in french tech industry should be confirmed quickly by french State Sec. for Industry Arnaud Montebourg and by president François Hollande, since it will heavily impact not only the french digital economy but the french hightech industry as a whole and could affect its GDP. It should also have some consequences on France’s foreign policy, led by Laurent Fabius.
If such announcement becomes reality, France could come closer to what used to be one of its core value : Human rights. With the radical transformation of Bull under president Sarkozy following its acquisition of/by Amesys, France quickly became a world leader in mass surveillance technologies, assisting numerous oppresive regimes and helping them crushing their political opposition.
All this could come to an end very soon, unless the announcement made by Fleur Pellerin was just a diversion.
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