Lost liberty fears in France over “Big Brother” security boost

France’s Vigipirate system, Europe’s most expensive anti-terror program, was designed to fight what it calls the growing terrorist threat. With troops patrolling the streets it is feared that France is now just one step from a police state.

­In the wake of a massive surge in immigration in Europe, as people flee the turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa, France wants to temporarily bring back border controls and has upped its security, with armed soldiers on the streets

The government claims troops make the public feel safer amid the threat of terrorism, but that is not what people think.

They can use the force in other ways if they like,” says a concerned passersby.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon says troops are required because France bombing Libya threatens a terror attack at home. One can now find soldiers at shops, tourist sites, government buildings, train stations, airports, schools and churches. But experts say the system does not even work.

The main feature of terrorism is that it is impossible to foresee,” believes Bertrand Badie, from Paris Institute of Political Studies.

Vigipirate’s real target is not to catch terrorists, claims one investigator, but to monitor the public.

Moe Seager, an independent journalist says it is easy to persuade people that there could be a terrorist at a metro station. It is easy then for people in France to believe: “Well, they have a right to listen to my phone calls (which they do), they have a right to monitor my emails, Facebook, because they’re only protecting us,” says Seager.

Troops are only the visible part. Authorities can now read people’s emails under a law passed quietly in February.

President Sarkozy also signed a bill for police to tap phones without getting judges’ authorization.

To justify the invasion of peoples’ privacy, says one author, Sarkozy makes France’s six million Arabs a scapegoat.

He has to make people afraid, to think there’s an Arab with a bomb here or down the bed,” explains Michel Collon, journalist and author.

The government recently branded Muslims a “problem”, and banned the Muslim full face veil.

Some already mock the ban, and what they see as an Arab witch hunt, by going out in veils and miniskirts.

There is also the huge cost. While workers continue to be laid off in the economic crisis, Vigipirate’s estimated price is 18 billion euros each year, enough to create a million new teaching jobs. An embarrassed government, analysts say, tries to hide the amount.

Vigipirate is very expensive. Because the executives can move resources from one area to another quite quickly, it’s very difficult to find an exact figure,” says Phil Rees, a terrorism expert.

Critics like Michel Collon have dubbed the Vigipirate system “Vichypirate”. Vichy was France’s fascist regime in World War II. It spied and informed on people, and targeted ethnic minorities. The French government today stands accused of doing the same to its own citizens.