Internet users in France are bracing for what may well be the adoption of a law authorising state surveillance of email and other means of communication. A proposed law including this possibility was recently voted in the French Senate.
The French government has been looking for ways of curbing the illegal downloading of music, film, literature and other copyrighted work for several years now.
The reason for the law’s existence is contained within the law itself and it’s ‘Exposé des Motifs’ – the section which explains the reasons for the law being proposed in the first place. It quotes 46 audiovisual, cinema and music organisations or companies which favour the introduction of a legal framework to protect their work.
Another reason is the perceived threat to the cultural diversity of France as a result of lost revenue for artists and culture in general.
France is a country in which many fields of artistic endeavor are connected to the state via financing, quota laws on foreign input and other dispositions.
A first batch of legislation, called Hadopi 1, was voted into law, but only after it was stripped of a core clause, that permitting government agency surveillance of private online correspondence. The clause was omitted after criticism within the government and the UMP, the Centre-Right party in power.
Determined to have that clause included in law, the government, with the firm backing of President Nicolas Sarkozy, drafted a new version of the law with the clause included. The President has also moved to curb opposition to it in the government when it goes to a parliamentary vote in two weeks..
This law, called Hadopi 2, or the ‘Creation and Internet’ law, to give it its official title, was voted by the Senate last Wednesday. All legislation in France must be voted by the Senate before it can be ratified in parliament.
Clause 3 of Hadopi 2 includes the mention that illegal downloading methods would include “...a service of public communication online or electronic communications.”
The notion of “electronic communication” is defined in the French Postal and Electronic Communications Code as including email, chat rooms, forums and instant messaging services.
As was to be expected, the vote caused consternation on both sides of the Parliamentary Assembly, although criticism of it on the right has clearly been muted.
A UMP Deputy, Lionel Tardy, announced that he intends to propose an amendment which would have the clause removed. He explained on his parliamentary blog that “The text in its current form opens the way towards email surveillance, that which would be a violation of private correspondence.”
The Senator responsible for piloting the law through the Senate, Michel Thiollière, holds that the notion of surveilling email is in line with the Constitutional Council’s insistence that there be no inequality of treatment between “The authors of the stealing of intellectual property based on the fact that the crime was committed using either peer-to-peer or another means of online communication.”
Franck Riester, the Deputy in charge of piloting the law in Parliament, estimated that illegal downloading doesn’t only happen using peer-to-peer and so other means of exchanging files illegally should also be taken into consideration.
Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterand also justified the re-introduction of the clause by citing the Constitutional Council.
The law now has every chance of being voted.