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French Government Debates Extending State Of Emergency


Just hours after Friday's attacks, French President Francois Hollande declared a national state of emergency. That move gave authorities wide powers to conduct searches without warrants, to confiscate weapons and to put people under house arrest. And since the weekend, there've been hundreds of raids across France. Well, now the government is moving to extend the state of emergency for another three months. That's a request from President Hollande. And that has raised questions about whether a law that was created 60 years ago during the Algerian War makes sense today. For more, we called on Oren Gross. He's the author of the book "Law In Times Of Crisis: Emergency Powers In Theory and Practice."

OREN GROSS: So let's understand, first of all, what the law allows the French government to do. It actually gives the French government quite broad police powers. And it's important to understand that what the law is designed to do is to give civil authorities broad powers as opposed to the military. The current powers that the French government has is to impose curfews, traffic bans, to control public movements, to prohibit public gatherings, to impose border controls, to conduct warrantless searches, they may declare house arrests, they can also control the press if an additional decree is issued and to close theaters and other meeting places. The French obviously believe, and rightfully so, that these are quite broad powers, some might even call them draconian.

SIEGEL: Here in Paris, where I am this week, it's been noted that there hasn't been any great mass demonstration as there was after the Charlie Hebdo killings and the killings at the kosher supermarket. There are many reasons for that, but one is that people have been told not to do it. And under a state of emergency, they can be told really you can't do it.

GROSS: That's correct. Under the current state of emergency, the government prohibited assembly and public gatherings at least in Paris until tomorrow. It may or may not be extended, but until tomorrow, until November 19, there is a prohibition against public gathering.

SIEGEL: This law has only been invoked in France a handful of times since the days of the Algerian War. Is what the French are discussing about as extensive as a law can be within a democratic society, or are there laws on the books like this all over Europe, say?

GROSS: There are laws on the books. The problem is not so much the law in the book, so to speak, as much as their application. There is no question that the powers that the law gives the French government are quite extensive. There are fears that they interfere unduly with civil liberties and civil rights. I would expect, however, because of the atmosphere, because of what we have seen in Paris in the last few days, that the Parliament will extend them by the three months that it has been requested to do so. I also expect that the discussion about whether those powers are overly extensive or not will continue.

SIEGEL: If I lived in a neighborhood outside Paris where most people are descended from immigrants from North Africa, I suppose I might look at a decree like this and think this is mostly going to affect my neighborhood. They're not going to be cracking down in the midst of French farmland in the middle of the country. This is all about us. Would I be right, do you think, in suspecting that?

GROSS: Well, unfortunately at the moment, all the information about those that committed the terrorist acts and those that assisted them leads to certain neighborhoods. So one can expect that most of those powers will be directed at the geographical locations where the French government and its allies, if it's, for example, the Belgian government, suspect that they will be able to locate the perpetrators and those that assisted them.

SIEGEL: Professor Gross, thanks for talking with us today.

GROSS: Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: Oren Gross is the Irving Younger Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota. His book is "Law In Times Of Crisis: Emergency Powers In Theory And Practice." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.