French Government Starts Blocking Websites With Views The Gov't Doesn't Like

from the liberte?-egalite? dept

We had been noting, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, how the country that then held a giant "free speech" rally appeared to be, instead, focusing on cracking down on free speech at every opportunity. And target number one: the internet. Earlier this week, the Interior Minister of France -- with no court review or adversarial process -- ordered five websites to not only be blocked in France, but that anyone who visits any of the sites get redirected to a scary looking government website, saying:
You are being redirected to this official website since your computer was about to connect with a page that provokes terrorist acts or condones terrorism publicly.
It appears that the French government has a very low opinion of the intelligence of the French public -- believing that merely reading something online will suddenly make them rush to join ISIS.
"I do not want to see sites that could lead people to take up arms on the Internet," Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.

"I make a distinction between freedom of expression and the spread of messages that serve to glorify terrorism. These hate messages are a crime."
Except... it already appears that France is really just censoring websites with messages it doesn't like. In that first batch was a site called "islamic-news.info." The owner of that site not only notes that he was never first contacted to "remove" whatever material was deemed terrorist supporting (as required by the law), but that nothing in what he had posted was supporting terrorism. He has written a public statement posted on the French news site Numerama, in which he makes it clear that he's a one-man operation, and that he's been doing everything based on a 50 euro/month hosting plan, and that he doesn't support ISIS or Al Qaeda at all. His site is opinionated, but mostly just against current Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. In fact, he notes that he specifically avoided topics that might be misinterpreted to suggest that he supported terrorists. He did not share ISIS propaganda or similar content. He even points out how he denounced a Syrian fighter who argued for attacks on Europe, saying that such things would reflect poorly on Muslims in Europe.

But, with no judicial review, no due process at all, the French government declared the site to be a terrorist supporter and now it's gone.

All that talk about France and free speech quickly fade into nothing. As Glenn Greenwald, at the Intercept, points out in response to all of this, blatant government censorship is far more damaging than terrorist attacks (while also noting that governments around the globe are moving in similar directions):
In sum, far more damage has been inflicted historically by efforts to censor and criminalize political ideas than by the kind of “terrorism” these governments are invoking to justify these censorship powers.

And whatever else may be true, few things are more inimical to, or threatening of, Internet freedom than allowing functionaries inside governments to unilaterally block websites from functioning on the ground that the ideas those sites advocate are objectionable or “dangerous.” That’s every bit as true when the censors are in Paris, London, and Ottawa, and Washington as when they are in Tehran, Moscow or Beijing.
France's "motto" is supposedly Liberté, égalité, fraternité. I have difficulty seeing how blatantly censoring websites you disagree with, without any sort of due process, fits with any of those three ideals.

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  • icon
    Violynne (profile), 18 Mar 2015 @ 8:54am

    ISIS fundamental belief: the government should control all people, including what they say, hear, and read.

    France fundamental belief: Not to be like and fight against ISIS.

    The irony, if it wasn't so blatantly terrifying.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    alex, 18 Mar 2015 @ 10:48am

    another perfect example of big government interfering with free speech

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2015 @ 10:49am

    I make a distinction between freedom of expression and the spread of messages that serve to glorify terrorism.

    Someone tell him that you can have free speech, or you can block speech that you disagree with. You cannot have both, and by blocking the terrorist message you:
    1) Make it more attractive to those who will be influenced by it.
    2) You are doing the same as every totalitarian, including the terrorists, wants to do. That is trying to force your views and beliefs on other people.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    BillG, 18 Mar 2015 @ 10:51am

    It would appear that the terrorists have already won in France....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 18 Mar 2015 @ 11:31am

      Re:

      France, the US, the UK... if you count terrorism's 'success' rate as far as killing people, it's a joke, statistically barely making it into the charts, if at all.

      If the measurement the success rate in 'destroying the rights of people with the help of fearmongering governments' however, then yeah, terrorism has been insanely effective, scoring victories over entire countries, though for the most part that's been thanks to government action, rather than some piddly 'terrorists' blowing up a few bombs.

      Governments love terrorism, as it gives them the excuse they need to grab as much power as they can, therefor it's in their best interests to hype it as much as possible, doing far more to strike fear into the public than some whackjobs with bombs could ever dream of doing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 18 Mar 2015 @ 12:53pm

      Re:

      to put on the tin foil hat, could a group in the French government had a deliberate hand in helping the terrorist attack happen just so they could seize control over the they did not like and mold the government into a more totalitarian one. Giving themselves more personal power?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Chasis (profile), 20 Sep 2015 @ 5:12pm

      Re:

      Here in the USA, too.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2015 @ 11:15am

    Am I the only one

    Am I the only one who would, upon seeing said message, become far more interested in finding out what that site could have to provoke such a reaction?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JP Jones (profile), 18 Mar 2015 @ 11:35am

      Re: Am I the only one

      After ten minutes or so of installing TOR you could have your wish. And then be very disappointed that it's just a blog whining about the Syrian leadership, which you probably don't care about.

      But at least you now know how to use TOR, so it's not a total loss!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Uriel-238 (profile), 18 Mar 2015 @ 11:50am

        Re: Re: Am I the only one

        Not an atypical result. I tend to be drawn to censored or challenged material only to be disappointed after the fact that it was so dry or tame or otherwise unapproachable.

        In the video game industry, my complaint about most games that approach controversial subjects (rampage killings, extremist ideology, racist propaganda) is that they're invariably bad, and not a game that anyone would actually want to play.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Blackfiredragon13 (profile), 18 Mar 2015 @ 2:26pm

        Re: Re: Am I the only one

        Wouldn't a VPN work also?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2015 @ 11:15am

    I wonder why community mesh networks like Germany's Freifunk never took off with the rest of the world. Maybe we have to learn the hard way first.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 18 Mar 2015 @ 11:35am

      Humans have short memories.

      Evidently we have to learn all the lessons over and over again.

      ~ Why we don't like power centralized to too few.

      ~ Why society has to favor critical thought over obedience.

      ~ Why human rights are extended to all people, foreign or domestic no how odious the such people might be.

      ~ Why free speech specifically includes speech we don't like, don't agree with or even find offensive.

      Waiting to turn on the showers
      And fire the ovens.
      Waiting to follow the worms.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2015 @ 11:30am

    First they came for the Islam website, and I did not speak out—Because I was not an islam website.

    Then they came for the social websites, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a social website.

    Then they came for the isp's, and I did not speak out—Because I was not an isp

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    radix (profile), 18 Mar 2015 @ 11:31am

    Liberty: You are free to agree with us. You are agreeing with us, right?!
    Equality: Everybody's rights will be trampled.
    Fraternity: Publicly shouting racist chants since before SAE was even founded.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2015 @ 11:32am

    Its like they think they have the highground

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jasmine Charter, 18 Mar 2015 @ 11:40am

    Been there, done that...

    It's the French. In the Middle Ages, they had le Guillotine to deal with things they didn't like - now they have the internet version.

    We just need a political cartoon of the Interior Minister of France dressed as the Queen of Hearts, yelling "OFF WITH HIS WEBSITE!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 18 Mar 2015 @ 11:57am

      The rise of the guillotine was post enlightenment.

      Before that the French were content with the rest of Christendom to burn heretics and hang everyone else.

      This is not to say that the window of death did not exist in various forms, but Guillotine's namesake came from his suggestion that it would be a more humane form of execution than hanging, that often resulted in a slow strangulation.

      But the Reign of Terror was definitely post enlightenment yet before they were capable of setting up an edifice of human rights, such as free speech. Even Emperor Napoleon was challenged in that regard when the fiction of the Count de Sade was popular, yet disagreeable to gentler minds.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2015 @ 2:09pm

      Re: Been there, done that...

      France has a tradition of economic protectionism, some of the most terrible legislation against voicing specific opinions as well as an extreme fear of modern technology.

      The censoring of extremism is a pan-european movement. It is no surprise when UK and France are leading that charge. Both have some pretty problematic minorities internally.

      I would personally look at going the other way around and improve the information around the religious works instead of playing wack-a-mole. Extremism is easiest to fight by making moderate interpretations easier to acquire, not by trying to stop extremistic interpretations by secterianists.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2015 @ 2:58pm

        Re: Re: Been there, done that...

        Extremism is easiest to fight by making moderate interpretations easier to acquire, not by trying to stop extremistic interpretations by secterianists.

        Actually the reverse could also work. Making extremist interpretations well known will drive people away from the whole ideology - reducing the pool of potential extremists.

        Most extremists start as moderates - or are drawn into the ideology in the first place by moderates so fewer moderates is actually a good thing.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2015 @ 11:50am

    so the march of freedom demolition marches on! all caused by the USA and it's gutless politicians who gave and still give whatever Hollywood and the entertainment industries want! this censorship will continue now, with no way to stop it! every country that used to be condemned for censorship, removal of freedom and privacy are now sitting back and shaking their heads in disbelief! they are now the countries with better records than us so called 'democracies'! how the hell can this turn around come so quick and so complete in such a short time and all over, if you can accept it, music albums and movies! we must be even more than ever the laughing stock of the planet!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 18 Mar 2015 @ 12:51pm

    It is never about safety or freedom or whatever buzz word they choose to use.

    Tis has happened far too many times in history to count. It is about controlling your population to conform to how you see things.

    Somebody is setting themselves and their party up for dictatorial powers in the future

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Richard (profile), 18 Mar 2015 @ 3:25pm

      Re:

      It is never about safety or freedom or whatever buzz word they choose to use.

      Tis has happened far too many times in history to count. It is about controlling your population to conform to how you see things.


      No it is always about being seen to be doing something. In our current style of democracy that is what politicians believe will work to keep them in power.

      It is the only way to explain the grotesque interventions overseas - which cost many lives - supposedly in the cause of freedom, whilst at home freedoms are sacrificed - supposedly in the cause of saving lives.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 18 Mar 2015 @ 2:23pm

    Freedom of the Press?

    What if a news reporter is wanting to look at the site for news reporting and research purposes?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2015 @ 6:04pm

      Re: Freedom of the Press?

      What if a news reporter is wanting to look at the site for news reporting and research purposes?

      I imagine they would claim that no "legitimate" reporter would want to do so, thus making the reporter into a non-reporter.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2015 @ 5:00pm

    HTTPS all the things!

    If the sites had been HTTPS-only (HSTS enabled), nobody would get "get redirected to a scary looking government website". They would only receive the generic "someone is trying to intercept your connection" error from the browser (with the correct combination of HSTS options, this error message cannot be bypassed).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2015 @ 5:41pm

    Soon the citizens of France will have to get government review and approval prior to posting any and all content on the internet, unless you are rich of course.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Sheogorath (profile), 18 Mar 2015 @ 8:25pm

    I've said it before, and I'll say it again...

    Je ne suis pas Charlie, je ne suis pas racist.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2015 @ 1:51am

    Good.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Cowshit (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 4:59am

    And just as I was about to post a comment ...

    ... *poof*

    Hey, where did TechDirt go? Ce qui se passe?!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pragmatic, 19 Mar 2015 @ 8:17am

    Blocking views the government doesn't like?

    Quelle surprise!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    heyidiot (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 8:48am

    Coming to an Internet near you

    Welcome to your future.

    Why else does every other paragraph of the so-called "net neutrality" regulations use the qualifier "lawful content"?

    They are from the government and they are here to HELP you.

    Unfortunately, every bit is not equal, and in this case: Neutral = Neutered.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 10:20am

      Re: Coming to an Internet near you

      I'm pretty sure when examining the extent of absolute free speech that child pornography, concurrent operational intelligence and certain kinds of hate speech still need to be verboten. Maybe ideally, they'd be not criminally so but culturally so, but given that our peoples still behave like they're starving, angry simians, laws can be useful in changing culture.

      Ergo, "lawful" as a qualifier has its use. I'll grant you in the current clime, "unlawful content" creeps outward like kudzu, mostly to favor locking up intellectual property.

      As Monroe noted, we are not angels, so some degree of government is necessary. But people in power like to believe they are angels, and so shield themselves from the very checks and balances that keep them in line.

      And that is where government and regulation fails, not in its mere existence.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Chasis (profile), 20 Sep 2015 @ 5:31pm

        Re: Re: Coming to an Internet near you

        I disagree. Government fails when it does exactly opposite its responsibility to serve and protect its citizens. When it becomes so busy with trying to make the average citizen pay money to those in power that it cannot serve and protect, it seems inevitable that it will become overbearing and criminalize everyone to extract that money in some way shape or form. America went down the tubes when it allowed congress to change the law to keep income tax after the end of WWI.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2015 @ 9:07am

    Use their weapons against them

    Why doesn't Anon or Lulz take the time to divert access to all of France's government websites to that warning page. When the government's own weapons are used against them they quickly get the message.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 10:24am

    Because Anonymous and Lulsec are both voluntary services

    The ones that have the skill to do that kind of work often have day jobs and lives.

    They also need to set up the infrastructure that makes them untraceable. It takes time and work.

    It's a good suggestion for them though.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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