French Minister asks US company to uphold France's values

By EDRi · January 16, 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

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

(Contribution by Kirsten Fiedler – EDRi)