Reporters Without Borders condemns the National Assembly’s adoption of an amendment proposed by the government that could allow the High Authority for the Diffusion of Art Works and Copyright Protection on the Internet (HADOPI) to pay private-sector companies to carry out online surveillance and filtering.
Adopted discreetly on the night of 1 February, Amendment 151 to the Law on Simplifying and Improving the Quality of Laws would permit the HADOPI to “provide support for innovative research and experimentation projects by state or privately-owned entities that help the Authority to fulfil its mission.”
Reporters Without Borders supports the decision taken by the Socialist Party’s parliamentary group to refer the amendment to the Constitutional Council. The Laws Commission and some of the ruling party’s parliamentarians also opposed the amendment.
Under the guise of simplifying the relevant legislation, the amendment will enable the HADOPI to use the private sector to help it carry out its job of monitoring the licit and illicit use of copyright-protected works online. Reporters Without Borders fears the possibility of impartiality in an area affecting fundamental freedoms.
Second wave of warning emails under controversial HADOPI law
Reporters Without Borders is concerned to see that the French authorities have advanced to the second stage of enforcement of the controversial HADOPI law, under which Internet users suspected of illegal file-sharing could end up having their Internet connection suspended.
After starting to send warning emails on 5 October, the authorities have announced that they are now sending out a second wave of emails accompanied by a certified letter. If violators continue to illegally download copyrighted material, the HADOPI’s Rights Protection Commission (CPD) can then ask a judge to order their Internet Service Provider to disconnect them for a month.
According to CPD president Mireille Imbert-Quaretta, 70,000 Internet users have so far received an initial warning email under HADOPI’s “graduated response” procedure. She acknowledged that it was impossible to verify whether the warnings had actually been read by the persons to whom they were sent.
Imbert-Quaretta’s claim that the authorities have “reached the rate of 2,000 warnings a day” suggests to Reporters Without Borders that they are paying too much attention to figures. The press freedom organization regards the suspension of Internet access as a violation of freedom of expression and HADOPI’s so-called judicial guarantees as nothing more than an illusion.
The 70,000 email warnings so far sent are the outcome of 100,000 requests to ISPs to identify suspected offenders from IP addresses. Imbert-Quaretta still hopes to reach the rate of 10,000 warnings a day, the volume cited when parliament debated the HADOPI law.
“Less than 10 per cent of those who were sent warnings (about 7,000 people), got back to us directly,” Imbert-Quaretta said. “Three quarters of them asked us to identify the offending material, while the others disputed the claim or suggested that their computers must have been hacked.”
Hackers are able to use other people’s Internet connections, so there is a real risk of people being wrongly convicted of illegal file-sharing. Imbert-Quaretta’s response is that “everyone has a duty to protect their connection,” but this ignores the enormous disparities in knowledge of computer technology on the part of the public.
The government issued a decree on 12 October requiring ISPs to send these warning emails to their subscribers. One ISP, Free, filed an appeal against the decree on 10 December claiming it violated the confidentiality of its subscribers’ personal data. The case is still pending.