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Sarkozy orders rethink of controversial police database

Latest update : 2008-09-11

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for a rethink of the so-called "Edvige" files, a database meant to gather information on crime suspects. Questions on sexual orientation and health could be dropped from the controversial programme.

Watch our Face-Off programme: 'Edvige, France's new big brother?'

 

French President Nicolas Sarkozy Tuesday ordered a rethink of a new police database aimed at gathering information on suspects as young as 13, a source in his office said, amid public outcry over the plans.

Fresh from crisis diplomacy in Russia and Georgia, Sarkozy gathered leading figures including Prime Minister Francois Fillon and instructed Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie to open consultations on the matter, the source told AFP.

The consultations should be "followed by decisions to protect liberties," the source said.

Sarkozy, whose satisfaction ratings among French voters remains low despite his high international profile, sought to address the storm surrounding the so-called "Edvige" files, which were also intended to gather information on political, religious and trade union activists.

According to a source, details on sexual orientation and health matters could be dropped from the database under revised plans, with the potential to monitor public figures also under the microscope.

During the talks, Sarkozy "reminded those present that the priority was the fight against juvenile delinquency."

Alliot-Marie had earlier conceded that minors may be erased from the so-called "Edvige" files if, after a given period of time, they have been cleared of any criminal suspicion.

"I have heard that there are worries. I want to dispel these worries and all ambiguity," said Alliot-Marie.

Set up on July 1 by government decree, the Edvige database will serve to keep track on anyone "likely to disrupt public order" and will be run by the new public security police directorate (DCSP).

About 100 civil liberties associations have launched a petition collecting some 130,000 signatures while 13 complaints challenging its legality have been lodged at the state council, France's highest administrative court.

Similar to internal security systems used in Britain and the United States, the Edvige database has raised concerns, with the defence minister at the weekend questioning the rationale for such a sophisticated tool.

Human rights minister Rama Yade acknowledged on Tuesday that "clarifications" were needed, in particular on whether information on a person's sexual orientation will be kept on file.

"The decree that created this database is raising worries. I believe that it is important to dispel them," said Yade in an interview to Europe 1 radio.

Alliot-Marie said the Edvige database was simply the continuation of another computerized file system set up in 1991 by the Renseignements Generaux (RG) police intelligence.

She said the new database was "adapted" to new laws and offered assurances that its use would be "strictly controlled".

But the interior minister stood firm on calls to scrap another database, called Cristina, run by the state's counter-terrorism agency and considered top secret.

"Cristina is protecting the French against terrorism. This is the heart of security," said Alliot-Marie.

The Socialist opposition has appealed to the government to withdraw the decree setting up Edvige while a group of 12 unions and rights groups have called a national protest for October 16.

Defence Minister Herve Morin at the weekend openly questioned the rationale for the sweeping new domestic spy system that will track political, business or religious leaders as well as trade union activists.

Fillon on Monday declared that the government was united behind its plan to use Edvige and dismissed suggestions that it amounted to a Big Brother-type state spying on its citizens.

"There is a reality in our country and it is a clear reality in terms of security," the prime minister added.

 

Date created : 2008-09-10

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