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European Union's Telecoms Package incorporated into French law

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders deplores the incorporation of the European Union's so-called Telecoms Package into French law. Adopted in November 2009 by the European Parliament, it was transposed into French law by a 24 August 2011 decree that was published in the official gazette two days later.

"The Telecoms Package has been adopted at the national level without any parliamentary debate although it changes the concept and vision of the Internet in France," Reporters Without Borders said. "Many issues remain unresolved. The government has displayed a complete lack of commitment to consumers."

Four issues are especially problematic: the lack of binding measures as regards the protection of personal data, the obligation imposed on Internet Service Providers to inform clients about risky activity and its legal consequences, the state's use of electronic communications for security and public order purposes, and the partial violation of the principle of Net neutrality.

Net neutrality

The decree is not very rigorous in the defence of net neutrality. Article 3 says the minister in charge of electronic communications, together with the Electronic Communications and Posts Authority (ARCEP), promotes "the capacity of end users to access and disseminate the information of their choice and to access the applications and services of their choice." But this has no binding force.

Article 33, which describes the information that should appear on an Internet subscription contract, does not guarantee Net neutrality and instead just refers to the principle and demands more transparency on the subject. The contract must inform consumers about the procedures that can be used "to measure and direct traffic so as to avoid saturating or over-saturating a network line and the consequences as regards the quality of service."

The effect of this is to endorse practices that violate Net neutrality. It suggests that ISPs can reduce broadband capacity in accordance with consumer volume.

State's use of electronic communications for public order purposes

Even more serious, especially after the recent riots in the United Kingdom, is the provision for the government to be able to disrupt communications. Article 40 says that "any mechanism for rendering electronic communications apparatus inoperative" is permitted "for the purposes of maintaining public order."

Article 5 allows the authorities to send emails or SMS messages to the public in order to warn of an "imminent danger." The failure to define this term is problematic and could have the kind of perverse effects that have been seen with authoritarian regimes. During the revolution in Egypt, the government sent out SMS messages urging the population to join the pro-Mubarak forces.

Read the full alert

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