Talk about messed up priorities.
French politicians are deeply divided after legislators in the lower house approved a new bill that would strip citizenship from anyone convicted of terrorism, the Associated Press reports.
Justice minister Christian Taubira added some dramatic spice to the disagreement by resigning in protest, and half of the Socialist Party's lawmakers cried crocodile tears on behalf of future terrorists who could be impacted by the law.
The measure is largely symbolic, and the main objection by critics is that it could leave terrorists stateless. Who cares?
Instead of fretting over the citizenship of people who want to murder their citizens, French lawmakers should be more concerned with parts of the bill that eat away at civil liberties.
That part of the bill would let any French prime minister unilaterally declare a state of emergency without support from parliament, and it's the French government's expanded powers under emergency conditions, as reported by Mother Jones, which should be frightening the French:
- Under a state of emergency, French authorities can conduct warrantless searches.
- Investigators can copy data from any electronic device discovered during terrorism-related raids.
- Internet access providers must provide authorities with access to the data flowing through their networks, and run software algorithms that flag keywords and phrases indicative of terrorist activity.
- Authorities can indefinitely detain anyone they suspect of planning harm to the government or citizens.
French lawmakers did make one concession: State of emergency laws allow the government to muzzle the press.
In the aftermath of the Nov. 13, 2015, terrorist attack in Paris, the government told French journalists they weren't allowed to interview witnesses. Lawmakers voted to restrict that power on Nov. 20, 2015.
While the French government restored that ability shortly afterward, it retained the power to censor social media posts and websites.
The Guardian sums up the opposition to the citizenship portion of the bill: "France's written constitution is seen as sacrosanct." Changing the constitution requires the votes of three-fifths of legislators in both French parliamentary houses, and such measures aren't taken lightly.
French citizens are also more willing to accept greater government power, a view that's informed by what they've been through, Mother Jones' Josh Harkinson argues.
"Unlike the United States, France has endured a long history of direct attacks and occupations on its soil—most recently by Germany during World War II," Harkinson writes. "As a consequence, the French may be more willing than many Americans to trade civil liberties for security."
Unfortunately, France doesn't need to search for examples of the bad things that can happen when a free society limits civil liberties in the name of combating terrorism. The U.S. Patriot Act, the surveillance programs by the NSA, and many stories of American police abusing terrorism laws should be enough to give the French pause before they willingly hand over their rights.
After all, once those rights are willingly forfeit, it's much more difficult to get them back.