Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

Intelligence Reform and the Snowden Paradox: The Case of France

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Abstract:  Taking France as a case study, this article reflects on the ongoing legalisation strategies pursued by liberal states as they seek to secure and expand the Internet surveillance programs of their domestic and foreign intelligence agencies. Following the path to legalisation prior and after the Snowden disclosures of 2013, the article shows how post-Snowden controversies helped mobilise advocacy groups against the extra judicial surveillance of Internet communications, a policy area which had hitherto been overlooked by French human rights groups. It also points to the dilemma that post-Snowden contention created for governments. On the one hand, the disclosures helped document the growing gap between the existing legal framework and actual surveillance practices, exposing them to litigation and thereby reinforcing the rationale for legalisation. On the other hand, they made such a legislative reform politically risky and unpredictable. In France, policy-makers navigated these constraints through a cautious mix of silence, denials, and securitisation. After the Paris attacks of January 2015 and a hasty deliberation in Parliament, the Intelligence Act was passed, making it the most extensive piece of legislation ever adopted in France to regulate secret state surveillance. The article concludes by pointing to the paradoxical effect of post-Snowden contention: French law now provides for clear rules authorising large-scale surveillance, to a degree of detail that was hard to imagine just a few years ago.

Keywords:  contentious politics; intelligence; internet; securitisation; Snowden; surveillance



© Félix Tréguer. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.