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France slowly advances towards net neutrality?

13 March, 2013

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: Macht Frankreich Fortschritte in Richtung Netzneutralität?

During an intergovernmental seminar on digital policy on 28 February 2013, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault announced the preparation for 2014 of a law “on the protection of digital rights and freedoms” which seemed to bring some improvements in online freedom protection, mainly in the net neutrality direction.

The National Digital Council (Conseil national du numérique – CNNum) was to express its opinion on net neutrality first. And if “there appears to be a legal loophole in the protection of freedom of expression and communication on the Internet (then) the government will initiate some legislative dispositions”.

Well, CNNum issued on 12 March 2013 its opinion on net neutrality recommending to the government to issue a law that would ensure the principle of the non-discrimination of communications, trying to extend it to search engines and other online services. Unfortunately, CNNum recommendations are in very vague terms ignoring to provide precise measures on the telecom operators’ obligations regarding net neutrality or any sanctions against access restrictions imposed by these operators.

“CNNum failed to propose a real protection of the Net neutrality. To try and solve different problems by one sole magic wand strike, this opinion risks to result in a neutralized neutrality which will solve no problem. As it has already been done in The Netherlands, Slovenia, Chile and Peru, France should legislate to guarantee Net by providing discouraging sanctions against operators which illegally restrict our online communications. If the law promised by the government is aligned with CNNum recommendations and is limited to a minimum protection of a vaguely defined neutrality, the Parliament should then amend the text to give it a real weight,“ said Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesperson for EDRi observer La Quadrature du Net - France.

But the French government also suggested other measures that contradict the digital rights principles. Thus at the same seminar on 28 February 2013, it announced the return of administrative filtering of websites, a sort of "independent control" for "administrative cutting off and filtering measures" without any mention to any judiciary interventions thus reminding of Loppsi law which allowed authorities to ask ISPs or hosters to cut access to certain online services deemed to contain child pornography.

Other announcement referred to a reform of the French 1881 law on freedom of the press to take into account “the Internet's strike force”, and the calling into question of web hosting services' liability and their increased role against illicit content.

“The government does as if Net neutrality was the sole issue at stake in the protection of freedom of expression online. In the meantime, we see a resurgence of the sarkozyst rhetoric of considering Internet a dangerous lawless zone, which in turn justifies private polices or the return of administrative censorship. Under the guise of a law on freedoms online, which could bring real improvements, the French government is postponing a possible legislation on Net neutrality and bringing the issue of repressive measures back on the agenda.” declared Jérémie Zimmermann.

Freedoms Online in France: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back? (1.03.2013)

The government discretely calls up filtering without judge of Loppsi (only in French, 28.02.2013)

Net Neutrality: the government should be invited to legislate (only in French, 5.03.2013)

The Net neutrality neutralized? (only in French, 12.03.2013)



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