France’s National Assembly is formulating laws to encourage whistleblowing on government and military programs that violate the rule of law, according to reports on Tuesday. The legislation looks to offer protections to whistleblowers in cases where their disclosures expose sensitive state secrets which contain violations of law.
While Democratic and Republican lawmakers have repeatedly emphasized that Snowden and other similar whistleblowers should face harsh punishment, French members of parliament are taking a more enlightened stance. The French National Assembly has created an amendment that will legalize the leakage of information by intelligence employees if they want to expose an abuse of power by their own authorities.
“The Snowden case has demonstrated the need to create conditions so that agents can denounce abuses by the intelligence services,” Jean-Jacques Urvoas, the bill’s author, was quoted as saying by French radio station France Inter.
Urvoas stated the amendment is supposed to provide “legal protection to an agent of the intelligence services who would denounce illegal intelligence gathering or abusive supervision.”
While the move is a rational, citizen-centric measure to ensure lack of abuse it would create a new authority to examine leaked documents. Remininscent of a FISA court, where all proceedings are behind closed door and there is no accountability whatsoever, the new measure would present leaks to a panel for review. This provisions significantly waters down how effective such whistleblowing could be – the likely scenario being a small subset of leaked information reaching the attention of the general public.
Intelligence officers would have to follow this procedure, in order to not “be punished or subjected to discrimination,” according to the amendment. Whistleblowers who avoid the new authority and send their information directly to the media would still commit an illegal act.
While the French approach is more rational than ours, it still leaves much to be desired. The exposures by Snowden revealed an elaborate network of systems and agencies that are totally unaccountable despite having near infinite power on our lives. The level of influence is so extreme is not perfectly feasible they could change election outcomes, judicial verdicts and other events that underpin our democracy.
Still, the French amendment is a sign that, despite terrorism concerns, a majority of French parliamentarians remain skeptical of the type of spying habits exposed by Snowden. The ex-NSA contractor revealed surveillance programs that wantonly violate privacy rights and the rule of law, indiscriminately targeting both citizens and foreigners, innocents and combatants.