France5 April 2004
Senate will finally debate the LEN law on 8 April
Reporters Without Borders pressed senators to hold urgent talks with rights groups as it emerged that a late postponement of a Senate debate on the LEN law was not to allow more debating time but because of parliamentary agenda changes, mainly due to the Queen of England’s visit to France.
The president of the Senate announced on the morning of 6 April that the Law on confidence in the digital economy (LEN) would now be debated on 8 April instead of 7 April as originally scheduled.
The international press freedom organisation called for dialogue with organisations defending individual freedoms on Article 2 of LEN, which relates to the responsibilities of Internet Service Providers.
The organisation also urged all Internet workers and Internet-users to mobilise to counter the draft law that will open the way to abusive censorship.
5 April 2005
Bill to Promote Confidence in Digital Economy poised for final reading in Senate
Reporters Without Borders today reiterated its opposition to the Bill to Promote Confidence in Digital Economy (known as the LEN), which is supposed to translate a June 2000 European Union directive into French law and which will have its final reading before the senate in a public session on 7 April.
The organisation urged senators to seize this last chance to amend the law so that it respects the rights of Internet users and online content editors. As it stands, the bill is a threat to free expression on the Internet as it would privatise the work of judges and force Internet hosts to act as censors, the organisation said.
"If the LEN is approved, excessive Internet censorship is likely to ensue," Reporters Without Borders said. "Italy, Spain and Belgium refused to turn hosts into Internet judges although they were implementing the same EU directive, so we call on the senators to ensure that only real judges will have the power to censor the Internet."
Reporters Without Borders already criticised the LEN at the time of its second reading before the National Assembly (see www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=9014). To judge by the economic affairs commission report released by Senators Pierre Hérisson and Bruno Sido, the senate may be ready to make improvements to the bill. The report opposed forcing Internet Service Providers to screen for illegal content, as required by the version approved by the National Assembly.
All the same, the bill’s most problematic aspect, requiring hosts to censor online content, is unchanged. This is a danger interpretation of the EU directive. Italy and Spain opted to give a "competent body" the power to determine the legality of disputed content, while Belgium assigned this responsibility to the state prosecutor.
These three countries realised the danger of privatising judicial authority over the Internet. Reporters Without Borders calls on France’s senators also to take account of this danger and to amend article 2 of the LEN so that it is left to judges to say what online content is illegal and must be suppressed.
As Reporters Without Borders has explained in the past, article 2 of the LEN says hosting companies are responsible for the content of the webpages on the sites they host. Hosts would become liable under common law if they did not "act promptly" to block content "after becoming aware of their unlawful nature."
But how are service providers supposed to decide whether or not content is lawful? Only judges are qualified to do this in France. Internet users would be able to demand the immediate withdrawal of content they consider unlawful. Website hosts - who oppose the bill - would be forced to censor any content likely to be deemed unlawful for fear of being found criminally liable, with penalties of up to a year in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros for the manager of a service provider.
The LEN’s advocates argue that website hosts would be protected by a clause in the bill making improper accusations of illegality punishable by a year in prison and a fine of 15,000 euros. Nonetheless, legal decisions would still have to be taken by commercial companies, and they are not qualified to do this.