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create criminal penalties for habitually visiting websites that advocate terrorism or hate crimes.
The proposal raised many concerns and, while it was not pursued,
laws such as LOPSSI 2, LCEN,
and the HADOPI have been highlighted by online activists and internet companies over concerns
that they may overreach in their aims. In mid-2013, reports surfaced that French intelligence
agencies may possess secret surveillance capabilities beyond the scope that is currently permitted in
French law. In a separate case, intelligence agents were also found to have intimidated a Wikipedia
volunteer with no legal basis, threatening to detain him if he did not delete a dated entry that
allegedly raised national security concerns.
In a bid to promote the distribution and protection of creative works on the internet, the
government introduced the controversial HADOPI laws in 2009.
However, the HADOPI law’s
“three-strikes” rule, which banned users access to the internet for a certain period of time after they
have violated copyright laws three times, was largely denounced as a violation of the fundamental
right of freedom of access to information on the internet.
The “three-strikes” rule was altered in
May 2013 to reduce the level of fines and abolish the cutting of internet service. In the past, the
website of HADOPI was targeted with distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks by hacktivists.
Independent government agencies, such as the National Commission for Informatics and Liberties
also criticized elements of the HADOPI law and highlighted the risks it represents for
freedom of speech and privacy.
Private companies, like the ISP “Free,” refused to send out
copyright infringement notices to users, citing the extra costs that it would entail.
Punishments under the HADOPI law were outlined as a “graduated response” in three steps. At
first, users downloading illegal content received a warning e-mail or a notice of infringement, of
which 1.15 million have been sent in the past three years. If illegal activity persisted, a letter was
then sent to the user and his or her ISP, which has occurred some 10,000 times. Finally, the case
was then submitted to the Public Prosecutor, which could result in a fine of up to €1,500 ($2,000)
and denial of internet access. Fourteen such cases have been launched, with only two resulting in a
criminal prosecution. In one case from September 2012, the accused was forced to pay a fine of
€150 ($200) for “allowing his Wi-Fi connection to be used to download songs without obtaining
prior permission from the copyright owners.”
In the other case, from June 2013, the defendant
Jean‐Loup Richet, “Internet Censorship in France: should we criminalize viewers?”, Herdict, April 24, 2012, Accessed April 25,
National Digital Concil, “Letter to President Sarkozy”, March 23, 2012, Accessed April 25, 2013,
Haute Autorité pour la diffusion des œuvres et la protection des droits sur internet
Frank La Rue, UN Report, May 16 2011, Accessed April 17 2013, http://documents.latimes.com/un‐report‐internet‐rights/.
Eduard Kovacs, “Hacktivists DDOS Hadopi and Others in Anti‐ACTA Protest”, February 06, 2012, Accessed July 05, 2013,
Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés
Alex Turk, “The Internet Policy in France and the Role of the Independent Administrative Authority CNIL,” 2011, accessed
April 17, 2013, http://www.kas.de/wf/doc/kas_22806‐544‐2‐30.pdf?110516131251.
Drew Wilson, “French ISPs and French Government Locking Horns Over HADOPI Costs”, September 2, 2010, Accessed July 05,
Rainey Reitman, “French Anti‐Piracy Law Claims First Victim, Convicted of Failing to Secure His Internet Connection,”
Electronic Frontier Foundation, September 2012, accessed April 23, 2013, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/09/french‐anti‐
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was made to pay €600 ($800) and the court ordered the suspension of his internet connection for
However, there were doubts as to whether the termination of service can technically be applied by
the ISP, since the law maintains that any cut in internet access must not affect the individual’s access
to private communications services, such as e-mail or even private messages on social networks.
Indeed, questions remain surrounding the fate of HADOPI itself, particularly since the publication
of the government’s Lescure report in May 2013. The former media executive recommended the
transfer of many competencies from HADOPI to the Supreme Audiovisual Council (CSA),
reduction of fines from €1,500 to €60 ($2,000 to $80), and the abolishment of internet
Many of these proposals seem to be underway, particularly after signals from the
French Minister for Culture and Communications, Aurélie Filippetti, indicated that suspensions
would be halted immediately.
The Law on Guidelines and Programming for the Performance of Internal Security (LOPPSI 2),
first presented in May 2009 amid intense debate,
was adopted in March 2011 by the National
Assembly and the Senate. LOPSSI 2 relates primarily to cybersecurity and the fight against child
pornography. There were concerns from online activists, however, that if administrative agencies
were allowed to demand ISPs to filter content without first acting on a court order, this may open
the door for the administrative filtering of other, more legitimate sites without the need for judicial
In July 2012, Fleur Pellerin, Minister for the Digital Economy, announced that Article
4 relating to the administrative filtering of child pornography would not be implemented without a
Article 23 grants the police with the authority to install malware—such as
keyloggers and Trojan horses—on a suspect’s computer in the course of counterterrorism
investigations, though authorization must come from a court order.
La Tribune, “ first internet denial for Hadopi » (translated), June 13, 2013, Accessed July 04, 2013,
Marc Rees, “Hadopi suspension is impossible to implement” (translated) , June 5, 2013, Accessed July 05, 2013,
Couseil superior de l’audiovisuel, http://www.csa.fr/.
Guerric Poncet, “Vidéo. Rapport Lescure: la Hadopi est morte, vive la Hadopi! [Lescure Report: Hadopi is dead, long live
Hadopi!],” LePoint.fr, May 15, 2013, http://www.lepoint.fr/chroniqueurs‐du‐point/guerric‐poncet/rapport‐lescure‐l‐hadopi‐est‐
Liberation, “Aurelie Filippetti announces the end of the Hadopi suspension”, May 20, 2013, Accessed July 05, 2013,
Loi d'orientation et de programmation pour la performance de la sécurité intérieure
Corentin Chauvel, “the debate on LOPPSI 2” (translated), 20 Minutes.fr, January 7 2011, Accessed April 17 2013,
LOPPSI law project, Accessed July 04, 2013,
Numerama, “LOPPSI Article 4 decree finally abandoned”, July 25, 2012, Accessed July 05, 2013,
Emilien Ercolani, “LOPPSI: Who could install spywares?” (translated), L’informaticien, November 7 2011, Accessed April 17
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The French government does not place hefty restrictions on anonymous communication for online
users, although individuals are required to register their real names when purchasing new SIM cards
or using cybercafés. In 2010, a law was briefly floated to require anyone who edits “a non-
professional communication service online" to register their name, location, and phone number as
part of a push to apply existing press regulations on to the blogosphere.
online advocates condemned the proposal in an online petition and the law was never enacted.
In June 2013, French daily newspaper Le Monde revealed the alleged existence of an extralegal
surveillance program operated by the Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE),
French foreign intelligence agency.
The DGSE maintains the capacity to intercept
communications between France and external countries in a plan that was ostensibly designed for
counter-terrorism purposes. In early July, additional reports surfaced from Le Monde indicating that
metadata from telephone and computer activity—even within France—was systematically
collected and stored at the DGSE facility in central Paris.
This runs counter to existing French
law, which only allows for counterterrorism agents within the Central Directorate of Interior
to make a request to obtain metadata related to a user’s telephone and
These limited requests must also be reviewed by the National Commission of
Control for Security Interceptions (CNCIS), an independent administrative authority.
In the case
of the DGSE program, by contrast, seven different government agencies have access to this large
body of user data without any legal basis or judicial oversight. Furthermore, the mandates and
scope of operations of some of these agencies are also not strictly limited to counterterrorism.
of August 2013, more details had yet to come out surrounding the allegations.
As previously mentioned, the LCEN maintains that ISPs and hosting providers must retain data on
their users and customers for a period of one year.
Furthermore, under a decree issued in 2011,
Draft Proposal “facilitate the identification of bloggers” (translated), Senat.fr, May 3, 2010, Accessed April 19 2013,
http://www.senat.fr/leg/ppl09‐423.html, Xavier Ternisien, Le Monde, “Could we Outlaw Anonymous Bloggers?”, May 27 2010,
Accessed April 19 2013, http://www.lemonde.fr/technologies/article/2010/05/27/un‐blogueur‐doit‐il‐rester‐
Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, http://www.defense.gouv.fr/english/dgse.
“France ‘has vast data surveillance’ – Le Monde report,” BBC News, July 4, 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world‐europe‐
Edward Moyer, “Eye on surveillance: France’s PRISM, EU’s concerns,” CNET, July 4, 2013, http://news.cnet.com/8301‐
Direction centrale du renseignement intérieur, http://www.police‐nationale.interieur.gouv.fr/Organisation/Direction‐
Laurent Borredon and Jacques Follorou, “En France, la DGSE au Coeur d’un programme de surveillance d’Internet [In France,
the DGSE at the heart of a program for internet surveillance],” Le Monde.fr, June 11, 2013,
Commission nationale de contrôle des interceptions de sécurité. http://lannuaire.service‐
“Comment la France intercepte les communications [How France intercepts communications],” Le Monde.fr, July 4, 2013,
Anne‐Laure‐Hélène des Ylouses, « Application of article 6 II of the LCEN”, Juris Intitiative, March 2011, Accessed April 17
and Guillaume Champeau, « LCEN will retain data on user », Numerama, March 01, 2011,
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data retention responsibilities were extended in duration and scope in order to bring France in line
with the EU Data Retention Directive. Under the decree, a wide array of online companies,
websites, and e-commerce outlets must, for a period of two years, store user data such as log-in
credentials, phone numbers, data on financial transactions, and web browsing history. An
association of online companies representing the likes of eBay, Facebook, Google, Microsoft,
Wikipedia, and Yahoo challenged the decision and called for a court review, since under EU law,
any new measures related to data retention must be reviewed by the European Commission.
mid-2013, the decree remains in place.
The EU Data Detention Directive itself has been criticized by European rights groups, such as the
European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS). In a non-binding opinion to the Commission, the
EDPS concluded that “the directive has failed to meet its main purpose, namely, to harmonize
national legislation concerning data retention” and “does not meet the requirements set out by the
rights to privacy and data protection.”
While these laws outline under what legal conditions authorities can block a site or fine a user,
there were also reports that the government has used more opaque methods to practice censorship.
On April 4, 2013, French secret service agents working in the DCRI reportedly threatened a
French Wikipedia volunteer, calling upon him to delete an article on a sensitive military installation
or face being detained and prosecuted.
Representatives from Wikipedia France criticized the
incident and called for French authorities to present them with a legal takedown notice. The entry,
which relates to a military radio relay station in the region outside of Lyon, has existed since 2009
and remains online.
As is the case with many countries around the world, France’s government agencies, websites, and
private companies are occasionally subject to cyberattacks and hacking. In January 2013, the French
Ministry of Defense’s website was hacked and defaced, while information from its database was
leaked by a member of the hacker group “XL3gi0n Hackers,” supposedly to demonstrate to France
that they need to improve their cyber-security measures and to protest against the recent French
attack on Mali.
In May 2012, after the second round of the presidential election, a piece of
malware known as “Flame” was discovered on the computers of the presidential staff.
French news magazine suggested the US government could be to blame, the US Embassy in Paris
accessed April 19, 2013.
Matthew J. Schwartz, “Tech Giants Challenge French Data Retention Law,” Information Week, April 8, 2011,
“Opinion of the European Data Protection Supervisor on the Evaluation report from the Commission to the Council and the
European Parliament on the Data Retention Directive (Directive 2006/24/EC),” European Data Protection Supervisor, 2011,
accessed April 18, 2013, https://www.eff.org/sites/default/files/filenode/dataretention/11‐05‐
Kim Willsher, “French secret service accused of censorship over Wikipedia page,” The Guardian, April 7, 2013, accessed April
24, 2013, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/07/french‐secret‐service‐wikipedia‐page.
Sabari Selvan, “French Ministry of Defense hacked and database leaked by XtnR3v0LT,” E Hacking News, January 16, 2013,
accessed April 18, 2013, http://www.ehackingnews.com/2013/01/france‐ministry‐of‐defense‐hacked.html.
BBC News Europe, “US 'launched Flame cyber attack on Sarkozy's office',” November 21, 2012, accessed April 18, 2013,
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has vehemently denied any part in the attack.
Overall, technical violence does not appear to be a
serious problem in France. The delicate balance between freedom of speech and protection of
information has come to the forefront in the digital age. While France has thus far maintained an
openness appreciated by its 48 million internet users, policies will be put to the test as the dark
sides of digital capabilities surface.
Sébastian Seibt, “France victim of a cyber attack from the US?” (translated), November 21 2012, Accessed April 13 2013,
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While internet connections remained somewhat slow and were subject to temporary
outages in certain areas, there were no major nation-wide disruptions to internet access
as there had been in previous years (see O
Incidents of self-censorship and blocking or manipulation of political content online
decreased (see L
In the months leading up to the 2012 parliamentary elections, civil society groups
created an online crowdsourcing portal to monitor any voting violations or campaign-
related incidents (see L
Obstacles to Access (0-25)
Limits on Content (0-35)
Violations of User Rights (0-40)
*0=most free, 100=least free
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