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French Minister asks US company to uphold France's values

16 January, 2013

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: Frankreich: US-Unternehmen soll französische Werte hochhalten

The French government seems to be very confused regarding questions of net neutrality and interference in networks. In the first two weeks of the new year, the new government managed to contradict itself by organising a round-table to discuss the importance of net neutrality on the one hand... and by asking a private corporation to interfere with communications on its network, on the other. It also seems to have lost track of its responsibilities as the government of a sovereign country, inviting a US company to regulate the online freedom of speech of its own citizens.

This week, a round table was organised by the government with academia and companies in order to discuss the issue of "Net neutrality: growth of the Internet and freedom of internet users". One of the reasons for this event was the decision by Free, France's second-largest access provider, to turn on the blocking of online advertisements by default. As a result of the ensuing controversy, Digital Economy Minister Fleur Pellerin stated that she had persuaded Free to stop its controversial policy of interfering with traffic in this way. However, she later clarified that Free's decision “raised a good question”, cryptically explaining that service providers that do not pay interconnection fees are “stowaways” (stowaways in ships that are, no doubt, pursued by Eric Cantona's famous seagulls).

Since encouraging Parliamentary reports in 2011 and legislative proposals on the topic of net neutrality, it is surprising that the French government deemed it necessary to discuss the issue now in a round table. Two things are noteworthy here: Internet users were not invited to take part in the round table that was supposed to be discussing their freedoms and second, French tactics start to look like a local duplication of the European Commission's wait-and-see approach: if you don't want to do anything just launch consultations... or a series of round tables.

Regardless of the French approach on this matter, the fact is that the government successfully asked for the end of the interference with traffic on its network (by Free) and then publicly called on a service provider (Twitter) to do the opposite and interfere with traffic on its service.

Last week, the French Minister of Women's Rights and Government spokesperson Najat Vallaud-Belkacem announced that she would like to hand over the responsibility for fighting unwanted content on the Internet to a US company. In an opinion piece in Le Monde, she stated that “Twitter must respect the values of the Republic”. After homophobic, racist and anti-semitic hashtags managed to become trending topics in recent months, the minister suggested Twitter should actively fight against the publication of tweets containing hate-speech on its platform in France. This week, her cabinet stated in an explanation to the online news platform Numerama that she wanted to “negotiate with Twitter in order to remove Trending Topics (TT) containing contentious content and hashtags.”

It appears that the French government is trying to hand over the regulation of French citizens' right to expression and to communication to a US company. It is quite astonishing that a European government believes that fundamental rights should be regulated by private actors – and that a responsible member of a democratic society would call on a private corporation to ask them to regulate the freedom of expression based on concepts that are rather stretchable. If Twitter should regulate the online liberty of French citizens, logically the French Socialist government believes that major corporations like Google, Microsoft/Skype, Paypal, MasterCard, Visa, Verisign, Facebook, Amazon and others should do the same.

Participant list of the round table on Net neutrality

Twitter needs to respect the French values (only in French, 28.12.2012)

Blocking advertising: Free "asked the right question" after Pellerin (only in French, 13.01.2013)

Fleur Pellerin does not want to block the Twitter hashtags, but to filter the TT (only in French, 14.01.2013)

Net Access Restrictions: What is the French Government doing? (14.01.2013)

Legal analysis: RT the Hate: France and Twitter Censorship, Part Two (7.01.2013)

(Contribution by Kirsten Fiedler - EDRi)



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