The Entire Internet Under Governmental Censorship In France?

Paris, June 15th, 2011 – Information website PC INpact revealed today a draft executive order which would give the French government the power to arbitrarily censor any content or service on the Net. The French government is furthering its policy to control the Internet, in complete disregard of citizens' rights and freedoms.

To implement article 18 of the law for the Digital Economy of June 21st, 2004, the French government is proposing to give to several of its ministries the power to order the censorship of online content that harms or otherwise puts at risk public order and security, the protection of minors, of public health, national defence, or physical persons1.

Clearly, the definition of these categories of content are both vague and overreaching. Such censorship measures – whether they consist in the removal or filtering of content – would be directly undertaken by the government, without any decision by a judicial authority. In practice, they would apply to all kinds of websites or online news services2.

A few months after voting the French securitarian LOPPSI law and setting up the ARJEL online-gambling authority, this new decree would be in total contradiction with the UN's special rapporteur's report3 or the French parliamentary report by MPs de La Raudière (UMP) et Erhel (SRC) on Net Neutrality,4 which both condemn blocking measures, particularly when carried out by an administrative authority.

“This draft executive order aims to give the government a vastly disproportionate power to censor any website or content on the Internet. It is an obvious violation of the principle of separation of powers, and strongly harms freedom of communication online5. This is an extremely disturbing drift, in direct continuity with the French government's repressive Internet-related policies. This draft executive order must absolutely be rejected.” concludes Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesperson of the citizen organization La Quadrature du Net.

  • 1. The law's article 18 states, in French, that the administrative authority is competent “lorsqu'il est porté atteinte ou qu'il existe un risque sérieux et grave d'atteinte au maintien de l'ordre et de la sécurité publics, à la protection des mineurs, à la protection de la santé publique, à la préservation des intérêts de la défense nationale ou à la protection des personnes physiques”.
  • 2. Article 14th of the LCEN specifies that “services such as providing online news, commercial communications and data search, access and recovery tools, access to a communication network or data hosting also fit in the range of online business, even if they are not paid by the ones who benefit from them” (our translation).
  • 3. See paragraph 31 of the report: “States’ use of blocking or filtering technologies is frequently in violation of their obligation to guarantee the right to freedom of expression, as the criteria mentioned under chapter III are not met. Firstly, the specific conditions that justify blocking are not established in law, or are provided by law but in an overly broad and vague manner, which risks content being blocked arbitrarily and excessively. Secondly, blocking is not justified to pursue aims which are listed under article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and blocking lists are generally kept secret, which makes it difficult to assess whether access to content is being restricted for a legitimate purpose.
    Thirdly, even where justification is provided, blocking measures constitute an unnecessary or disproportionate means to achieve the purported aim, as they are often not sufficiently targeted and render a wide range of content inaccessible beyond that which has been deemed illegal. Lastly, content is frequently blocked without the intervention of or possibility for review by a judicial or independent body.

  • 4. In April 2011, a parliamentary mission took the opportunity to question the grounds for filtering measures “despite their apparent legitimacy, due to their inefficiency and the adverse effects they may lead to.” See:
  • 5. See in French: