French government officials recently drafted a proposal for a broad spyware initiative that would log users’ Internet surfing and downloading habits in order to prevent file sharing piracy. The spyware would also block access to certain websites and track the applications installed on a user’s computer.

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French Internet users could soon be asked to install spyware on their PCs that tracks their surfing habits and analyzes the applications installed on their machines in order to prevent file sharing piracy. Plans for this type of surveillance surfaced this week when a paper authored by the French Hadopi agency, which was put in place to police the French Internet and prevent copyright infringement as part of the country’s three strikes legislation, leaked online.

The paper is part of an ongoing consultation process about the implementation of the French three strikes law, which is supposed to punish repeat infringers with the termination of their Internet access. The law came into effect this June, but many technical details are still up in the air, including the question of how to make sure that a certain Internet account was actually used by its owner, and not by a neighbor piggybacking on an insecure WiFi connection. Hadopi apparently wants to enlist users to secure evidence through spyware installed on their machines. The authenticity of the paper has been confirmed by French media, according to heise.de.

Hadopi’s spyware would log Internet usage on the machine in question with an encrypted log file as well as a clear text log file, and it would include the option to block certain websites or services outright through the use of a black list. An additional grey list would lead to users having to prompt that they really want to download a certain file, even if it meant they might infringe. The paper states that the software could be part of antivirus or spyware solutions, but also mentions the possibility of directly including it into routers.

Log files are supposed to include very detailed information about the date and time certain applications were launched as well as the search for keywords that are blacklisted, and are supposed to be kept in encrypted form for a year. The system would even record if a user accessed a video stream.

The paper states that the use of such an application would have to be voluntary, and that account holders would have to have a chance to disable the application at their will. However, the app would log each time it gets disabled, and it could be distributed as an automatic download by ISPs, which could essentially make it quasi-mandatory.

The French Internet rights group Quadrature du Net has condemned the proposal, with spokesperson Jérémie Zimmermann saying: “It is obscene that taxpayers’ money is used to carry out mad scientist experiments which are dangerous and doomed to failure.”

Photo courtesy (BY-SA) of Flickr user twicepix.

Related content on GigaOm Pro: Will Three Strikes Laws Take the Field in U.S. Copyright Ballgame? (subscription required)

  1. Well, as disturbing as this scenario sounds, it really is the logical conclusion to the attempts by content rights-holders to turn the Internet into something it is not. I would only hope that the absurdity of what Hadopi is proposing actually makes people realize the impossibility of putting the genie back in the bottle, to use an over-worked cliche. In order to stop widespread file-sharing, pretty much every computer would need to be monitored, something that is just not likely to happen, at least not without a major change in government and user attitudes.

  2. Ok sounds resonable.
    If the french government also agrees to record and send me all of their internet activities.
    Recordings of all thier phone calls and banking transactions would be nice too. Doesnt that sound resonable?

    Ok, come on, send em to me, Im waiting!

  3. This law is a real shame. We, french people, will have to install this spyware on our computers, to protect ourselves from Hadopi. I agree piracy is not a good thing, but be sure the problem is Hadopi will accuse people who never did piracy in their whole life, and they’ll be condamned. It’s a shame the government want to control the web, and know what each person do, read, send, recieve… We’re not free anymore. It may look good if you’re not french, but if you had all the infos about Hadopi, the truth about it, you’d see it’s the beginning of the end of liberty and that France can’t be nammed the country of freedom anylonger.

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  5. Typical French!

  6. EvilCroissant Friday, August 6, 2010

    This is typical French negotiation tactic.

    Ask for something really obscene, and get really anal about it, so that you can agree upon a lesser thing. When the lesser thing was what they wanted all along!

    Keep that in mind!

    This thing must be fully killed, not even a millimeter to give in.

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