Intelligence: The French Battle Those Spying Bastards


September 9,2008:  The French are finally in open rebellion against Napoleon's secret police, and don't want all the information collected by these snoops to be computerized and made available to a large number of civil servants. Not so much of a problem with the police having access. Government officials can't understand this, as it is common knowledge (just check any American, or European, TV crime drama) that the police can quickly access all you phone, credit card and other electronic records when they have too. The bureaucrats don't understand that what upsets a lot of French citizens is all those civil servants nosing around there when they don't have to. The French will tolerate government snooping, but only up to a point, and apparently that point has been reached.

You probably didn't know that Napoleon invented the modern secret police. Yes, Hitler and Napoleon had something in common besides invading Russia and having a low opinion of the French. The Little Corporal was also a leader in the field of media manipulation and Information Warfare in general. But while Napoleon was removed from office in 1815, his secret police kept their jobs and kept going. This year, Napoleon's snooping organization (Renseignements Généraux) was merged into larger DST (Departement du Surveillance du Territoire), which is similar to the British MI-5 (domestic intelligence agency, sort of a CIA for spying on ones own people).

Now the French bureaucrats (who are actually a pretty bright and well educated bunch, at least at the top) have to find a way to explain to the people just what is going on here. The basic problem is that your average civil servant is not going to touch those computerized databases. That's because these systems increasingly have security software installed the keeps a log of who accesses any of this data, which data and when. These "logging systems") can also note who should be in there, and flags those who appear to be abusing their access. This has led to a growing number of government workers losing their jobs, being punished, or even prosecuted, for underestimating the power of the new log and trace software.

But most citizens are not convinced that the security software will guarantee their privacy, and so these new data mining systems become a big political issue. While people want the public security these systems provide, they also want protection from abuse of this information. For many people, the best protection is for there to be no easy access to all government records. The French are particularly annoyed about being reminded of how thorough the old Renseignements Généraux was in compiling data on tens of millions of people. To most French, it's preferable that those spying bastards have to dig through piles of files to find anything, not just do a little typing on their laptop.





Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close