A proposed anti-terrorism law in France has freedom of expression advocates concerned. The bill, as our friends at La Quadrature du Net frame it, “institutes a permanent state of emergency on the Internet,” providing for harsher penalties for incitement or “glorification” of terrorism conducted online. Furthermore, the bill (in Article 9) allows for “the possibility for the administrative authority to require Internet service providers to block access to sites inciting or apologizing for terrorism” without distinguishing criteria or an authority to conduct the blocking.
Apart from specific concerns that the bill treats online speech as distinct from other speech, other provisions are just as problematic. For example, while Article 4 refers to “provocation aux actes de terrorisme” or “incitement to terrorism”—a clearly defined legal concept—it also refers to “apologie du terrorisme” or “apologizing” or “glorifying” terrorism, implying a condemnation of opinions alone rather than any overt acts, as Reporters Without Borders points out. La Quadrature du Net’s mini-site on the bill addresses further concerns (in French).
Anti-terror laws have been used in various countries around the world to prosecute individuals for their speech about unpopular ideas. In the United States, the prosecution of Tarek Mehanna—a young Muslim who translated and posted material referred to by prosecutors as “Al Qaeda propaganda”—involved the use of conspiracy and so-called “material support” laws. In Ethiopia, anti-terror laws have been used to silence journalists and are currently being used to prosecute the dissident Zone9 Bloggers. And the list goes on.
France’s attempt to “cleanse” the Internet of terrorist content isn’t a first in the EU either. In 2012, a leaked document showed that the European Commission sought to make use of private Internet companies to remove terrorist content, without oversight or accountability.
While terrorism itself is a serious concern, it is far too often invoked as the justification for a broader clamp down on civil liberties. We support La Quadrature du Net in opposing this dangerous bill and encourage our French readers to check out their mini-site for information on the bill and how to fight back against it.