France: Constitutional Council declares French hate speech ‘Avia’law unconstitutional

France: Constitutional Council declares French hate speech ‘Avia’law unconstitutional -

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the decision of the French Constitutional Council (Conseil constitutionnel) the highest constitutional authority in France, declaring that the majority of the Law on Countering Online Hatred, more commonly known as the Avia Law, is unconstitutional. This declaration renders the key provisions in the law invalid. 

Senior Director of Law and Policy Barbora Bukovska said:

“This is a victory for freedom of expression in France. 

“We warned that the Avia Law would entrench private censorship powers as private tech companies would be expected to determine whether content was ‘manifestly illegal’.  

“This, along with the timeframe for removing content and highly punitive fines, meant that this Law posed serious threats for online freedom of expression.

“The French Government failed to listen to the concerns of freedom of expression organisations. We welcome the Council’s decision, which will help to protect online speech in France. We also hope that strong safeguards for freedom of expression will be followed in any potential plans for future social media regulation in France and as part of the EU Digital Services Act, where similar issues are likely to arise.” 

Background

The Avia Law (or Law on Countering Online Hatred) was adopted on 13 May 2020 by the French National Assembly.

ARTICLE 19 raised concerns about the Law from its inception for the failure to meet international freedom of expression standards. In particular, we criticised the broad scope of the Law, the requirement to remove “manifestly illegal” hate speech and a broad range of other types of content within 24 hours of notice and a possibility of fines (up to 4% of global turnover) for “systemic failure to cooperate with the authorities”. We pointed out that these obligations could incentivise over-removal of content at the expense of freedom of expression.  

Today, the French Constitutional Court  found the key requirement to remove “manifestly illegal hate speech” and other types of content within 24 hours to be unconstitutional. The requirement to remove content terrorist and ‘child pornography’ within one hour following an administrative order from police, was also declared unconstitutional. 

For ARTICLE 19’s previous analysis of the Avia Law, see our 2019 and 2020 briefings. 

For interviews, contact Pam Cowburn: [email protected]

 

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