French Gov't Resists Police Database Protests

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The French government will not reverse a decree allowing French police to record the sexuality and religion of suspects in their files, the French Minister of the Interior has said, despite calls from a parliamentary commission on Thursday not to collect some of that information.

The National Assembly's Commission on Laws called on the minister on Thursday to modify the June 27 decree to exclude information on sexuality, race and health from the database. The Commission's role is to scrutinize laws and make recommendations to the government and the Assembly.

The June decree merged two domestic intelligence services, the Directorate of Terrorist Surveillance and the "Renseignements Généraux," or secret police, and set new rules for maintaining and accessing their files in two central databases, Cristina and Edvige.

Edvige, a database covering criminals and potential criminals, and also past, present and potential elected officials, has received the most criticism, notably for the way the decree allows the intelligence services to record the sexuality, religion, race and health problems of those in the database, and widens the range of officials allowed to consult it.

Interior Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie plans no significant changes to the decree, she said in a radio interview Wednesday.

However, to allay the fears of various campaign groups, the decree will be rewritten to make its meaning clearer, she said.

"There's no question of indicating the sexual or religious preferences or health information about people," she said.

Nevertheless, those terms had to appear in the decree because otherwise it would be impossible for database entries to mention to, for example, membership of a medical research charity whose name referred to a particular disease.

The parliamentary commission also called on the minister to impose stricter rules on who can access the database, and to keep records of all attempts to access the database for five years.

Alliot-Marie has spent the week in meetings with campaigners concerned about the Edvige database: on Thursday it was the turn of religious groups, trade unionists and employers' representatives, while earlier she met magistrates, lawyers, civil rights and anti-discrimination campaigners and a group representing paralytics.

An online petition calling for the abolition of the database has collected 184,560 signatures since July.

The government has had trouble winning public support for its database plans. A new front-end for police databases, Ardoise, was criticized by civil rights campaigners in April, also for allowing records to include information about sexual orientation or religion.

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