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As France Moves To Extend State Of Emergency, Critics Raise Concerns


And now back to France. Today, the lower house of parliament approved the government's request to extend the country's state of emergency. The extension is for three months. That measure, which permits, among other things, searches without warrants, goes to the upper house tomorrow where it's expected to pass.


The package of special police powers has its detractors here in Paris, including the man we're going to hear from next. He is Jean-Pierre Dubois. He is a law professor and past president of the French League for Human Rights. Mr. Dubois, welcome to the program.


SIEGEL: The case for an emergency decree is roughly this. France is not just threatened by criminals. There's a war going on. These are extraordinary times that call for extraordinary measures. What's wrong with that argument?

DUBOIS: We admit that it's an extraordinary time, and we admit we need extraordinary measures. There's no doubt about that. But we don't like this idea of war because war is something very important. And when we use this term, you have to - exactly to know what your meaning. And you remember better than me what former president Bush said about war on terror. And nobody knew exactly how long would it take to end that war and would it end someday. It's exactly the same thing. It's not a war because when you say war, you say everything's possible.

SIEGEL: But you're concerned about the possible consequences of saying that this a war that France is in. On the other hand, teams of people with Kalashnikov rifles and suicide vests have attacked in the center of Paris. It wasn't a holdup. It's not a demonstration.

DUBOIS: No. It's terrorism. It's horrible. But I mean, OK, for exceptional measures, but the difference between the Russian way or the Chinese way and our way is not about exceptional measures. It's about controls, checks and guarantees of freedoms, and this is not the correct democratic way. It's a bit the Russian way.

SIEGEL: In what you've said over the past week, you have made two, it would seem, contradictory cases - one, that the police already have all of these...


SIEGEL: ...Authorities and second, that they're getting unnecessary or too many authorities right now. Do you suspect that the state of emergency extension is in part to show that the government's doing something and to try to comfort people?

DUBOIS: The problem is, the only important change with this emergency law is that some important decisions that normally need judicial authorization can be ordered by government, OK? We understand that for terrorism and for an exceptional proceeding. But if you look at the bill, you will understand it's not a bill upon terrorism.

In the political integration, you find terrorism. But when you come to the articles of the bill, it's not at all terrorism. It's everything about security and public order. That means the exceptional extension of the police powers and the exceptional restraints of civil liberties is not at all only for the purposes of fighting terrorism but for anything during three months. And we don't understand that because it's not really very fair to tell people it's about terrorism and to extend so much the exceptional law field in a way.

SIEGEL: When you say the police are getting powers without judicial review, what sorts of abuses are you concerned...

DUBOIS: Oh, yes.

SIEGEL: ...About that might be committed under this...


SIEGEL: ...Without judicial review?

DUBOIS: OK. The emergency law allows police to make perquisition, which means to go in the personal homes of people without (unintelligible) judicial mandates and to check everything about computers and every kind of data and to compile this data and so on. I understand this may be necessary. But of course, if you consider that the bill is only - they're widely speaking about security and public order. That means the police forces, more or less, will just think it's possible for any kind of cases and not only for terrorism. And this is very concerning because it means that all the judicial rules of our legal system will be paralyzed during three months. And we just need that the highest courts in France could very quickly say, if it's a terrorist case, you can do that, but we'll check.

SIEGEL: And the court would define whether that was a legitimate...

DUBOIS: Exactly.

SIEGEL: ...Terrorism...

DUBOIS: Exactly.

SIEGEL: ...Investigation.

DUBOIS: We really need the judicial guarantee of law.

SIEGEL: Professor Dubois, thank you very much for talking with us today.

DUBOIS: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: Jean-Pierre Dubois, past president of the French League of Human Rights. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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