There is still no word, official or unofficial, as to whether I am to be criminally prosecuted under French privacy laws for a story I wrote many months ago.
I do not take comfort from the fact I have heard nothing since giving my last statement, which was to be placed before magistrates in Cahors for them to decide a course of action.
I can only hope it is not being proceeded with, based, as it was, on an extremely badly translated text, but I have no intention of drawing attention to myself by seeking answers. It is unwise to put oneself unnecessarily back on the radar of the gendarmerie, as I can find no time limit to the circumstances in which I find myself. My French lawyer has simply advised me to keep my head down and hope it has "disparu" - disappeared.
Paradoxically, the law here seems to be both flexible and inflexible. A man or a woman can be brought to court and sentenced within days of an offence, while another is thrown into jail with no court appearance 12 months later.
Privacy and practice are reasons routinely used, even by the defendant's lawyers, when refusing to answer to the press any questions raised.
It is well-known that France has the most restrictive laws of all democratic countries, enshrined in civil and criminal law, and adhered to by professional, though not mandatory, practice. That the personal peccadilloes of politicians and those who should know better, such as shamed ex-IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn, still continue to often go unpublished, shows the strength of this.
But, as I am further discovering, privacy can also be completely ignored in certain instances. Googling myself - come on, we all do it - I found my registration as an "auto entrepreneur" was fully logged online.
This gives my full address, the fact that I'm a "press agency" and the two lengthy important numbers used to pay my social charges and my tax.
For just under €4 anybody can access my statement of earnings for the year. (Don't bother; it makes for pitiful reading.) For €75 a full analysis can be done on my solvency and future potential. (Actually, I might do that myself to see if the expert thinks I have a future. No, perhaps not. I'll stick with the free monthly horoscope and cosmic ordering.)
This in a country which has shut down numerous internet sites, such as those attempting to grade schools and teachers or name police who have been photographed acting as agents provocateurs in demonstrations.
Now, despite the Leveson-created belief that reporters have unlimited legal or illegal access to the doings of every British citizen, nobody could access this information in the UK. True, by paying and using Companies House, anybody can see all directors and all documents filed, including accounts. But not those of a self-employed individual.
Discussing this with Genevieve, a local mayor and farmer, over dinner, she gave a wry smile and said there was much that was open here once it came under the remit of government. For example, any grants given to individual farmers were published and easily tracked.
Given the innate suspicion, jealousy and paranoia of farmers I suggested it was a service probably much used. Strangely she would neither confirm nor deny and seemed uncomfortable when I asked if this was surely done to aid the denunciation process.
"No, no, that doesn't happen now," she finally said. But it does. Anonymous tip-offs - denunciations - are a time-honoured tradition, something which the French both detest and don't hesitate to use. The paradox again.
Stung by finding out that a neighbour has received a generous grant, a call can be made suggesting he is not declaring all for tax purposes or that he is misusing money by buying cars not equipment.
Even if discovered to be false, the months of intense scrutiny brought by one anonymous call can sap the mind and body. Every aspect of his life will be combed through, including his bank accounts, until some proof is found to fit the tip-off. Or, if he's lucky, not.
Recently, though most certainly not on anywhere near the same scale, I, like all the residents of my tiny village, got a hand-delivered notice from the mayor. It warned that some people were not obeying the recycling rules down at the "poubelles", the huge dustbins where we drag our rubbish. Bottles had been found (guilty). If this continued, it read pompously, investigations would be made; presumably searching the bags for an address; and the culprit "denounced" and made to pay a heavy fine. My bottles still go in the general bins, carefully separated now from envelopes.
Back to the earlier point. I cannot seriously see any of my neighbours wanting to discover my earnings then denouncing me for employing a gardener when I patently cannot afford to do so. And I fervently believe in freedom of information. But it cannot be one rule of privacy for the Establishment and their cronies, and another for the rest of us.
Liberte, Egalite et Fraternite. A great idea but one I increasingly do not buy into. Actually, neither do the French in their lovely, cynical hearts.
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