France Regulations and Policies
France prohibits terrorist acts in general by defining them as criminal offenses within its Penal Code. For example, both the actions of incitement to terrorism and “glorification” of terrorist acts are covered, as well as computer crimes, the financing of terror, and money laundering. There is also specific French legislation and several decrees regulating online terrorist content; as well as its removal within a set time frame of 24 hours. Governmental efforts to discontinue and block sites containing terrorist content are being made with these regulatory tools, together with the application of strong penalties for hateful speech, online incitement to terrorism and glorification of terrorist acts. Within this framework, France is following a more comprehensive European regulatory trend.
In terms of terrorist content online, the French legal system is expanding the regulation and criminalization of online terrorist content, as part of the broader general trend within the European Union. In fact, the legislation not only covers the traditional offense of “incitement to terrorism” but also the “glorifications of terrorist acts” (Art. 421-2-5 CP). The sanctions for the incitement and the glorification are the same, leading to a maximum of 7 years of imprisonment and 100.000 euro fine if the action has been committed on the internet.
Art. 6-1 of Law no. 2004-575 allows the French administrative authority to impose the withdrawal of such illegal content. Law no. 2014-1353 is accompanied by Decree 2015-253, which describes the procedure that allows the competent authority to search engine operators or directories to discontinue the sites glorifying or inciting to the commission of terrorist acts. The law also includes Decree 2015-215 on the procedure impeding the access to sites that incite to the commission of terrorist acts or promote terrorism.
Law no. 2016-731 on the reinforcement of the fight against organized crime and terrorism modifies articles from the Penal Code and Monetary Code in order to enhance the procedures and lawsuits’ effectiveness. Those measures deal with the struggle against terrorist organizations which use the internet for communication or financing purposes. In addition, Law no. 2017-1510 on the reinforcement of homeland security and terrorism modifies the homeland security code by allowing the administration to seize any data related to the glorification of terrorism.
Three documents highlighting France’s counter-terrorism strategy have been published: The “White Paper: Defense and National Security” (2013), the “French National Digital Security Strategy” (2015) and the “Defense and National Security Strategic Review” (2017). The documents stress the role of the internet as an effective recruitment channel and tool to disseminate jihadist propaganda. They also promote the establishment of a safe and stable cyberspace.
Measures to tackle the threats within cyberspace were developed in the National Plan for the Prevention of Radicalization. According to the latter, a dialogue has to be established between the government and online platforms in order to set means for the identification and withdrawal of illicit content within one hour after the publication. The French government has also made available an online alert system, named PHAROS, in order to notify the authorities in case of online illegal behavior. The notified content is visualized, analyzed and eventually classified in the system. In this specific case, the alert is then transferred to a French official investigation service. A criminal investigation might be opened under the jurisdiction of the National Prosecutor. In case of foreign illegal content, the alert is transferred to INTERPOL that will then refer it to the judicial authorities of the country involved. In addition to this alert system, a smartphone app – SAIP (Système d’Alerte et d’Information des Populations) – was launched in 2016. Its two objectives include warning the French population of an ongoing terrorist act and informing them on the conduct that has to be adopted. However, reports indicate that the application has not been effective during several terrorist attacks.
On 12 November 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron launched the “Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace” at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) sponsored by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris. President Macron called for the development of common principles for securing cyberspace, emphasizing the importance of international cooperation to strengthen the relevant international cyber-security standards. The principles of the declaration were supported by many countries, private companies, universities and civil society organizations.