Legal Changes Give French Police Power to Take Down Porn, Extremist Sites without Court Order

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French police can order Internet service providers to take down websites without a court order on child pornography or terrorism accusations as of Tuesday. The legal changes follow a statement late last week by President Francois Hollande that companies hosting extremist messages are “accomplices.”

The Ministry of the Interior announced last week it would implement new provisions to a pair of laws. A child pornography law passed in 2011 and an anti-terror law passed last year each contained provisions which allow a department of the French national police to identify Internet content and order ISPs to remove it within 24 hours. The offending content will be replaced by official messages about its blockage.

DNS blocking can be easily circumvented, however, says Felix Tréguer of French internet advocacy group La Quadrature du Net. The group is also concerned about legal content being blocked.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation shares concerns about the new system. “In light of the recent arrests that have followed the Charlie Hebdo attacks — many of which are clearly overboard — I would say that France’s government needs to seriously think about whether this law will stop terrorists, or merely chill speech,” Jillian York of the EFF told The Verge in an email.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve suggested the Internet plays a role in the radicalization of 90 percent of French nationals joining jihadist movements.

Similar movements have been made in the UK. Last year, the UK government announced plans to extend its pornography Internet filter to block online extremist videos.

Websites blocked for terrorist content will be reviewed by an anti-terrorism branch of French law enforcement, and an administrator from the national information and liberties commission (CNIL) will provide oversight.

President Hollande gave warning to Internet businesses that they would be held legally accountable for content associated with their services during a speech in January.

“The big operators, and we know who they are, can no longer close their eyes if they are considered accomplices of what they host,” Bloomberg reported Hollande as saying. “We must act at the European and international level to define a legal framework so that Internet platforms which manage social media be considered responsible, and that sanctions can be taken.”

Social media companies, web hosts, ISPs, and other service providers operating in France will have to carefully navigate the politically-charged landscape.

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