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France: Why Sarkozy is handing out sobriety tests

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Philippe Wojazer /Reuters

(Read caption) Facing fines? French workers, in masks representing politicians, attend a protest about pay.

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Law and order in France is getting personal.

The French interior minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, wants the state to confiscate the cars of people who cause traffic accidents or accumulate tickets for speeding and drunken driving.

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As part of a proposed law that is to be taken up by Parliament this month, judges would also have the option of forcing scofflaws to install an individual breath analyzers in their cars to show how much alcohol they have consumed. Those drivers would have to blow into a balloonlike gadget and get the machine’s all-clear before the engine would start.

Confiscation and obligatory sobriety tests would be just the latest in a series of anticrime measures from the right-leaning government of President Nicolas Sarkozy.

This spring, the French parliament adopted a tough government-proposed law against Internet piracy that would have subjected violators to a sort of personal cyberbanishment. It would have meant that people who illegally downloaded copyrighted music and movies would have their Internet service cut off automatically if they persisted after two warnings. The constitutional court, however, said the law went too far, and that judges, not the state, should mete out punishment to cyberpirates. The government plans to present an amendment of the law to Parliament.

Nor will the French be able to show up at street protests wearing just anything. Ms. Alliot-Marie has also said it should be a crime for demonstrators to cover their faces, as did the masked protesters who disrupted the NATO summit in April in the eastern French city of Strasbourg. “When you demonstrate, it’s for your ideas,” she said. “When you come hooded, it usually means you’ve got something else in mind.”

But would-be demonstrators immediately howled in protest.

An anti-nuclear power group complained that banning masks would amount to intimidation of legitimate dissent, such as its annual Chernobyl anniversary march where people wear white masks and white hazmat suits to “symbolize the anonymous victims of the atom.”

An organization representing students who work unpaid or lowly internships at French companies and others that generally cover up their faces for protests, such as opponents of genetically modified crops and globalization, are also up in arms.