THE FRENCH populace, having returned from its annual summer vacation throughout the month of August, is raising its collective voice in opposition to an arbitrary government decree establishing a national database that many of its critics view as excessively intrusive and ripe for oppressive authoritarian abuse.
Announced in an order revealed July 1st, the 'Edvige' database would contain data about French citizens 13 years of age and older who are active in politics or labor unions, have significant institutional, economic, social or religious roles, or who are considered by the authorities - without probable cause for suspicion - to be "likely to breach public order."
Information collected, corelated and analysed could include names and addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, physical appearance (and likely biometrics too), behavioural traits, financial and tax records, plus details about other people who have personal ties to the individual. Critics say the data could extend to ethnic origins and sexual preferences.
Earlier this week, the opposition politician Francois Bayrou said, "With just a few clicks of the mouse, any government official or civil servant will have access to intimate data."
Diverse constituencies of French citizens including magistrates' bodies, labor unions, gay rights groups and defenders of human rights and civil liberties have objected that Edvige appears intended to enable the government to intrude excessively on its citizens' privacy.
In Thursday's edition of Paris newspaper Le Monde, Michel Pezet, a lawyer and a former member of a French electronic privacy body, wrote, "The Edvige database has no place in a democracy."
He added, "There is nothing in the decree that sets limits or a framework. Whether the database is used with or without moderation depends only on orders from up high."
He warned, "The electronic Bastille is upon us," referring to the fortress that was stormed by the Parisian mob on July 14, 1789, at the beginning of the French Revolution.
The Sarkozy government claims the Edvige database would merely centralise information that is already being gathered and retained by separate public security organisations that have recently been merged together.
An online petition calling for the government to abandon its plans to establish Edvige has collected more than 103,700 signatures since July 10th, according to its website.
Several public interest groups have already lodged formal appeals with the Conseil d'Etat, France's highest administrative court, asking that it compel the state to cancel its decree establishing the Edvige database.
One would hope that the right-wing government of Nicolas Sarkozy might recall France's glorious heritage of "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" before its citizens recall some other old French traditions from the days of the Revolution... torches, pitchforks and the guillotine. µ
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