French Constitutional Council Kills Government's Brand New Hate Speech Law

from the not-like-this-you-don't dept

France’s brand new hate speech law barely made it a month before being struck down. Passed in the middle of May by the French Parliament, the new law turned regular police into internet police, allowing French law enforcement to determine what content ran afoul of new restrictions on hate speech and terrorist content. Cops would decide what should be censored and would issue the censorship order, all without ever having to run it by a judge.

The new law took what was bad about Germany’s hate speech law and amplified it by eliminating judicial impartiality. Once any content was determined by law enforcement to be illegal, it was up to platforms to remove it immediately or face being fined.

As it stands now, no one will have to do anything. Politico reports the law has failed to survive a Constitutional review.

France’s highest constitutional body on Thursday struck down most of a controversial bill requiring online platforms such as Google and Facebook to remove hateful content within 24 hours and terrorist propaganda within one hour.

“‘[The legislation] undermines freedom of expression and communication in a way that is not necessary, adapted nor proportionate,” the Constitutional Council said, ruling that the text is not compatible with the French constitution.

The law wasn’t just criticized by activists, tech companies, and politicians on the other side of the aisle. It was criticized by the EU Commission itself, suggesting the law would have been dead on arrival anyway, even if it was somehow found constitutional. Not that the Union necessarily has better ideas. It, too, is trying to implement regulations forcing tech companies to remove “terrorist propaganda” within one hour of notification.

The Constitutional Council pointed out the only thing the law was guaranteed to do was encourage the swift removal of plenty of legal content.

“Given the difficulty to appreciate whether flagged content is obviously unlawful within the deadline, the penalty incurred as of the first breach and the absence of specific cause that exonerates from responsibility, [the legislation] can only but incite online platform operators to remove flagged content, whether they are obviously unlawful or not,” the Constitutional Council wrote about the 24-hour removal deadline.

Collateral damage is always a given when governments decide to start calling certain types of speech “illegal.” The risk increases with every iteration, especially when governments demand responses within one day… or in some cases, one hour.

Fortunately, all of that has been removed by the Council’s decision. No one is currently under any obligation to remove anything targeted by this failed legislation. Back to the drawing board for legislators, who are still hoping to criminalize content created by third parties but treat tech companies like they’re the actual criminals.

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