France is pressing ahead with even greater internet censorship than before, in an attempt to stop the recruitment of Islamic fighters on Facebook and other internet media. Some content may be censored or suppressed in terms of clause 8 of a new law currently before the French Senate. Some commentators have described the law as a serious infringement of individual liberties.
Ten years ago the presence of radical Islam on the internet was limited to about ten highly specialised Salafist websites, as well as videos of Bin Laden or other warriors filmed close up while pronouncing fatwas. Now there are thousands of images, videos and content streaming via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram advocating Jihad and encouraging terrorist candidates to take the next step.
‘Radicalisation in the bedroom’
After listening to families of Jihadists who went to fight in Syria, the ministry of the interior noted that everyone told the same story: that of adolescents isolating themselves for hours while watching videos on the internet, radicalised “in the bedroom”. “We realised that most of the profiles of people involved in the Syrian networks are ones without any prior clashes with the law, who are not radicalised in Salafist prayer halls but on the internet and who suddenly appear on our radar screens,” said a source close to the investigation. “The vast majority of the Jihadists have their first physical contact with their recruiters on the Turkish-Syrian border, the rest is simply virtual,” said the official from the place Beauvau (where the interior ministry’s headquarters are situated).
To provoke or defend terrorism is already punishable by law in France, in terms of a law on the freedom of the press going as far back as 1881. The anti-terrorist plan of Bernard Cazeneuve which was voted by the Assemblée in mid-September and presented to the Senate today, is meant to provide new tools for preventing such “radicalisation in the bedroom or in front of the computer screen”.
Making the advocacy of terrorism a criminal offence and banning certain websites
There are two major measures to be taken by France. The first is to make advocacy of terrorism a crime in terms of the law of 29 July 1881 on the freedom of the press and to include it in the new article 421-205 of the French penal code. That will allow for longer bans and bigger fines. Anyone found guilty could be sentenced to seven years imprisonment and a fine of €100 000.
But above all, it will be possible to apply special means to combat cyber Jihad, for example by bugging lines. IT infiltration online without judicial oversight will be authorised.
The most controversial, however, is article 9 of the bill. Characterised by some as an “affront to liberty”, it will allow the blocking of URLs pointing to sites or internet pages where terrorism is advocated, simply on the advice of the police and without any judicial authority. In concrete terms, after a message from the police, a request to ban the site will be sent to the publisher, the host and the service provider of the particular site. If the content is not withdrawn within 24 hours, an administrative authority will be empowered to turn the site off or block it.
Associations defending internet freedom denounce a “draconian law”
If the national commission on information technology and freedom is presented as guardian against possible abuse of the new law, it only has a brief to protect private data and not freedom of expression. Adrienne Charnet, who heads the association Quadrature has denounced the law which according to her is “draconian”. “There are so many barriers to be put in place to avoid abuse that the risk is that we will end up with over-surveillance in society,” she argues. She condemns its “lack of efficiency”: “Anyone who is slightly familiar with the internet could get around these measures.”
“We are aware that it is impossible to suppress the Jihadist propaganda completely but we want to put a few hurdles in the way of its dissemination which is currently limitless,” answers the ministry of the interior. “It should be more difficult for an adolescent to stumble across it.”