WTF?! In what sounds like an Orwellian nightmare that could never happen, France has just passed a new bill that will allow authorities to monitor suspects using cameras, microphones, and GPS systems on their phones and other devices. It comes after the country faced a period of civil unrest following the shooting of a teenager by police.

French lawmakers in the country's National Assembly passed the spying provision as part of a wider justice reform bill, writes Le Monde.

Unsurprisingly, the bill has been slammed by French citizens as a "snoopers" charter that allows police unrestricted access to people's phones, laptops, car systems, and other devices, from which authorities can record sounds and images.

Police will only be able to use these powers of surveillance after authorization from a judge, and they will apply to suspects in crimes that are punishable by five years in jail. Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti says it would affect "dozens of cases a year."

MPs amended the bill to limit the use of remote spying to "when justified by the nature and seriousness of the crime." The powers cannot be used against "sensitive professionals" such as doctors, journalists, lawyers, judges, and MPs, and the surveillance can only last for a maximum of six months.

"We're far away from the totalitarianism of 1984," Dupond-Moretti said. "People's lives will be saved" by the law, he added.

Despite the assurances and restrictions on its use, the bill has raised fears among civil liberties groups that the powers will be abused, including their expansion to cover less serious crimes and to target dissidents, leading to a surveillance state. There are also concerns that police will discover vulnerabilities in devices and use them for spying instead of informing the manufacturers.

"In view of the growing place of digital tools in our lives, accepting the very principle that they are transformed into police auxiliaries without our being aware of it poses a serious problem in our societies," tweeted French advocacy group La Quadrature du Net last month.

A surveillance bill of this magnitude comes at a bad time for France, which faced widespread protests and violence over the shooting of a 17-year-old by police during a traffic stop in Paris last week. President Emmanuel Macron threatened to suspend social media platforms to quell the spread of violence following accusations by ministers that platforms such as TikTok and Snapchat were being used to organize and encourage riots.

Masthead: Rick Han