French Constitutional Council Validates Internet Censorship

Paris, March 10th, 2011 — The French Constitutional Council has released its decision1 regarding the LOPPSI bill. Judges held that article 4 of the bill, which allows the executive branch to censor the Net under the pretext of fighting child pornography, is not contrary to the Constitution. In doing so, the constitutional court has failed to protect fundamental freedoms on the Internet, and in particular freedom of expression. Hopes lie now in European institutions, which are the only ones with the power to prohibit or at least supervise administrative website blocking and its inherent risks of abuse.

The LOPSSI law compiled many repressive measures on vastly unrelated subjects. The Constitutional Council found itself caught by this strategy. While it did strike down some of the most shocking provisions, it left untouched those that seemed less harmful or were proposed in the name of noble goals, in spite of having a highly detrimental impact on civil liberties, such as the ones related to the Internet.

LOPPSI's article 4 gives the executive branch the power to suppress the flow of information on the Internet. In a highly hypocritical move, the government claims to be fighting child pornography, a goal for which filtering is both ineffective and vastly overkill, especially given the risk of collateral censorship of perfectly legal websites2. There is a high risk of seeing such a scheme used for other goals.

“This decision about article 4 is a great disappointment. It is obvious that Internet censorship will not help solve the child pornography problem in any way, as experiments in other countries have shown3. After HADOPI's Internet access suspension measures, calls to ban WikiLeaks hosting and recent talks against Net Neutrality, France is siding ever more with the group of countries hostile to a free Internet by adopting administrative filtering of the Internet.”, says Jérémie Zimmermann, co-founder and spokesperson for La Quadrature du Net.

“It is unfortunate that the Constitutional Council did not build on its own HADOPI jurisprudence by giving the judiciary branch exclusive authority to control restrictions to online free speech. The solution may lie in European institutions: the EU Parliament is currently trying to supervise blocking measures adopted at the national level, which could impede their implementation in France4. Moreover, administrative Net filtering seems contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights5, and one can expect an appeal before European judges.”, concludes Félix Tréguer, policy and legal analyst for the advocacy group.