France: Avia law is threat to online speech

France: Avia law is threat to online speech -

Freedom of expression organisation ARTICLE 19 has warned that France’s “Avia” Law, passed today, will threaten freedom of speech in France. 

Originally drafted to tackle online ‘hate speech’, the law has been widely criticised for being overly broad in terms of the scope of the platforms affected and the content that they are expected to remove.

Senior Legal Officer Gabrielle Guillemin said:

“The Avia Law will effectively enable the French state to devolve online censorship to the dominant tech companies, who will be expected to act as judge and jury in determining what is ‘manifestly illegal’ content. The Law covers a wide range of content so this is not always going to be a straightforward decision.

“Given the timeframes by which companies have to respond, we can expect them to err on the side of caution when it comes to deciding whether content is legal or not. They will also have to resort to using filters that will inevitably lead to the over-removal of content.

“The French government has ignored the concerns raised by digital rights and free speech groups, and the result will be a chilling effect on online freedom of expression in France.”

Provisions within the Avia law

The Law on Countering Online Hatred, so called “Avia Law”, will obligate all websites to remove child abuse and terrorist content within one hour of being notified by the police.

In addition, anyone can report content as “illegal” to major online platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google. They will have 24 hours to determine if this is the case. The scope of the Bill has been extended from illegal ‘hate speech’ to a wide range of other content including: apology of acts constituting an offence against human dignity, war crimes, crimes against humanity, slavery, crimes of collaboration with an enemy, voluntary interference with life or physical integrity, sexual aggression, aggravated theft, extortion or destruction, voluntary degradation or deterioration which is dangerous to a person, sexual harassment, human trafficking, pimping, incitement to or apology of acts of terrorism and child abuse content. It will be down to companies to decide if flagged content is manifestly illegal by these criteria.

Companies can be ordered by an administrative authority to “prevent the redistribution” of content previously found unlawful by a court. In practice, this will mean monitoring all users’ posts to identify where that content is reproduced. This could be in breach of EU law, as Article 15 of the EU E-Commerce Directive prohibits imposing such a general obligation on providers.

Read ARTICLE 19’s analysis of the draft Bill here.

For more information, contact [email protected].

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