With New Spy Bill, France OKs Mass Surveillance

‘By validating almost all surveillance measures provided in the Surveillance Law adopted on 25 June, the French Constitutional Council legalizes mass surveillance and endorses a historical decline in fundamental rights,’ says digital rights group

by: Nadia Prupis

France’s highest constitutional authority on Thursday approved a sweeping, controversial new surveillance law that greatly expands the government’s spying powers, despite widespread human rights concerns.

Making only minor changes to the legislation, which was approved by Parliament in May, the Constitutional Council ruled on Thursday that the bill generally aligns with the French constitution—even as privacy and civil liberties groups continue to call attention to its egregious rights violations.

“By validating almost all surveillance measures provided in the Surveillance Law adopted on 25 June, the French Constitutional Council legalizes mass surveillance and endorses a historical decline in fundamental rights,” said La Quadrature du Net, a Paris-based digital rights and civil liberties organization. “Only international surveillance has been deemed to be non compliant to the Constitution.”
“This law is in flagrant violation of the international human rights to privacy and free speech.”
—Geneviève Garrigos, Amnesty International France

The law gives French intelligence agencies power to tap phones and hack into computers; sweep up and analyze metadata of millions of civilians; and plant secret microphones, cameras, and ‘keystroke loggers’ in the homes of “suspected terrorists”—all without approval from a judge.

It also gives the government the power to authorize surveillance for reasons as vague as “major foreign policy interests” and preventing “organized delinquency.”

The government justified the bill by invoking recent attacks in Paris, which saw 17 people killed by gunmen in January at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher deli. President Francois Hollande’s move to have the law approved by the Constitutional Council is “unusual,” the Guardian writes. But while it is rare, Hollande’s motives are clear—the decision by the Council ensures that the law will not be challenged as illegal in the future.

By approving the bill, the Council “has disavowed its role as protector of fundamental rights and liberties,” La Quadrature continued. “By refusing to implement effective control over the intelligence services, it is rubber-stamping a historic step back for privacy and freedom of communication, thus undermining the very foundations of democracy. This evening the reason of state was brutally imposed over the rule of law.”

One of the most controversial provisions in the bill requires internet service providers and telecommunications companies to install equipment, referred to in previous debates as “algorithmic black boxes,” that sift through internet traffic and metadata for so-called “terrorist” activity and alert authorities when flagged. Opponents have warned that portion of the bill will “create permanent surveillance,” as Communist Senator Cécile Cukiermansaid during a June debate—a charge which officials deny.
“This evening the reason of state was brutally imposed over the rule of law.”
—La Quadrature du Net

The law comes into effect just two days after the United Nations Committee for Human Rights released a report warning that the bill “grants overly broad powers for very intrusive surveillance on the basis of vast and badly defined objectives” and calling on France to “guarantee that any interference in private life must conform to principles of legality, proportionality and necessity.”

Amnesty International France chief Geneviève Garrigos said on Friday, “This law is in flagrant violation of the international human rights to privacy and free speech. Someone investigating the actions of the French government or French companies or even organizing a protest, could be subjected to extremely intrusive forms of surveillance. Mass surveillance tools, including black boxes, would put the internet communications of the entire population and beyond within reach of the French authorities.”

And Privacy International, which submitted recommendations this month to the UNHCR on the right to privacy in France, said the bill legalized hacking. “Its use by any state authorities, particularly intelligence agencies, must be highly regulated to protect against abuses of power. Yet the bill makes no provision for judicial authorisation or oversight of hacking powers,” the organization wrote.

Source: With New Spy Bill, France OKs Mass Surveillance | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

‘Corporate Influence Has Won’: House Passes Anti-GMO Labeling Bill

Legislation dubbed the DARK Act had backing of powerful groups who poured money into defeating state-level GMO-labeling efforts

by: Andrea Germanos

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed legislation that would block states from requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods, or GMOs—a move that consumer rights groups decried as corporate power defeating Americans’ right to know what’s in their food.

The bill, H.R. 1599—dubbed the “DARK Act” (Deny Americans the Right to Know) by its critics—passed 275-150. (Click here to see the roll call…)

It was backed by the food industry, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Monsanto Company, which have poured money into defeating GMO labeling initiatives.

Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, a group that opposed the bill, explains: “The bill that passed includes provisions that would preempt states from labeling GMOs or enforce already passed GMO labeling provisions (like Vermont’s Act 120), and would prohibit states from having any oversight of GMO crops, for example, a county-wide ban on growing GMOs or GMO-free zones in certain organic seed-producing areas. Instead, this bill would create a voluntary federal GMO labeling standard for companies, weakening already deficient regulations.”

It was co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), who said following the vote that bill “provides needed clarity in food labeling.”

Among those disappointed in the passage of the legislation is the Center for Food Safety.

“Passage of this bill is an attempt by Monsanto and its agribusiness cronies to crush the democratic decision-making of tens of millions of Americans. Corporate influence has won and the voice of the people has been ignored,” stated Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety.

Environmental Working Group (EWG) was also opposed to the bill, and cited widespread public support for labeling GMOs. 

“It’s outrageous that some House lawmakers voted to ignore the wishes of nine out of 10 Americans,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for EWG.

The outcome of the vote was a “foregone conclusion,” he continued, because “this House was bought and paid for by corporate interests.”

But Ronnie Cummins, international director of the Organic Consumers Association, stressed that the fight is far from over—so expect resistance.

“We are committed to stopping this outrageous, anti-consumer, anti-democracy legislation from succeeding,” Cummins said. “We will do so by mobilizing a massive opposition movement that transcends political party affiliations, and that unites consumers of all ages with organic farmers and retailers whose livelihoods are threatened by this legislation, and with the medical and scientific experts who are outspoken about the potential health and environmental risks associated with GMO crops and foods.

“It’s time to hold every member of Congress accountable. Either they stand with Monsanto and Big Food in support of the DARK Act, or they stand with the overwhelming majority of their constituents for truthful labeling and consumer choice,” Cummins stated.

Instead of H.R. 1599, hundreds of farm, public interest and environmental organizations have urged (pdf) passage of bipartisan legislation that would require labeling of GMOs.

For now, the battle moves to the Senate, where, as the Des Moines Register reports, no similar legislation exists.  EWG’s Faber says his group is “confident the Senate will defeat the DARK Act.”

Kimbrell expressed optimism as well, stating, “We remain confident that the Senate will preserve the rights of Americans and stand up for local democracy.”

Source: ‘Corporate Influence Has Won’: House Passes Anti-GMO Labeling Bill | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

Healthcare ‘Oligopoly Wave’ Continues As Anthem Gobbles Cigna

Human rights campaigners say mega consolidation will erode health care access and hike prices, illustrating deep problems with for-profit model

by: Sarah Lazare

The health insurance giant Anthem announced Friday that it is buying its behemoth rival Cigna for $54.2 billion, launching the largest such merger the country has ever seen and reducing the number of major U.S. insurers to a paltry three.

Analysts and human rights campaigners warn that the move is poised to further slash access to health care and hike prices across the country, illustrating the problems with the for-profit model in terms of delivering vital services.

The mega deal comes less than a month after insurance giant Aetna acquired Humana for $37 billion, part of a nationwide push to consolidate in what the Wall Street Journal referred to earlier this year as an “oligopoly wave.”

The Anthem and Cigna merger is expected to be finalized in 2016, after which the joint company will provide coverage for at least 53 million people.

Numerous studies show that insurance mergers lead to higher premiums, including a 2012analysis of a 1999 merger between Aetna and Prudential, as well as a report released in February which showed having more, not less, insurers in the insurance marketplace established by the Affordable Care Act leads to lower premiums.

Moreover, the mergers are taking place in a country that already has a dismal record with providing real care. A report (pdf) released last year by the Commonwealth Fund finds that the U.S. health care system is already the most expensive in the world yet delivers the worse care among 11 industrialized nations.

Cait Vaughan, a Health Care Is a Human Right organizer with the Southern Maine Workers Center, told Common Dreams that Friday’s merger underscores the fact that the Affordable Care Act model “is still a for-profit system that is not determined by our needs, but determined by the desires and profit margins of huge conglomerates.”

Vaughan continued, “In the medical-industrial-complex, people are made incredibly wealthy off of us being sick and limiting very basic access to health care while increasingly shrinking our ability to make choices.” In a presidential campaign cycle where we are “hearing a lot about how rich people control policy and elections,” Vaughan emphasized that it is vital to talk about the control of the wealthy over one of the most basic human rights: health care.

The growing nationwide movement for publicly-funded, universal health care is calling for a single-payer system in which the profit motive is cut out of the equation, and everyone is included.

But Brian Quinn, a law professor at Boston College, told the Washington Post that the frenzy of mergers could signal that the country is moving in the opposite direction: “It’s a little ironic I suppose that—over time—we may find ourselves moving towards a single payer healthcare system, but rather than it being government run, it may well be a small number of private, highly-regulated insurance companies.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Source: Healthcare ‘Oligopoly Wave’ Continues As Anthem Gobbles Cigna | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community