President Nicolas Sarkozy faced an embarrassing split in his Cabinet today over a computer system that a new French internal intelligence service will use to spy on the private lives of millions of law-abiding citizens.
Hervé Morin, the Defence Minister, broke government ranks to side with a growing revolt against Edvige, an acronym for a police database that will store personal details including opinions, the social circle and even sexual preferences of more or less anyone who interests the State.
Edvige, which is also a woman's name, was created by decree in July to store data on anyone aged 13 or above who is "likely to breach public order".
"Sarkozy's Big Sister", as it has been dubbed, will also track anyone active in politics or trade unions and in a significant role in business, the media, entertainment or social or religious institutions. Listed people will have limited rights to consult their files.
The campaign to dump Edvige - dubbed "Sarkozy's Big Sister" by the French press - began after France's data privacy watchdog, the National Commission on Information Technology and Freedom (CNIL), obliged the government to go public on the system.
Since then, the anti-Edvige revolt has gathered pace. More than 120,000 people have signed a petition to have it dropped and more than dozen lawsuits have been filed against it at the Conseil d'Etat, France's highest civil court.
Unionists and left-wing groups were the first to complain.
Laurence Parisot, the head of the Medef employer's union, has demanded an "explanation" from the interior ministry while Michel Pezet, a former member of the CNIL agency, described the system as an "electronic Bastille".
"There is nothing to be worried about," countered Brice Hortefeux, minister for immigration and national identity.
"Today there's a debate. Complaints have been filed, let them be examined."