Court Ruling Rejects Core of French Hate Speech Law

BY Heather Greenfield
June 18, 2020

Brussels, BELGIUM — Today the French Constitutional Court published its decision on the French “Avia Law” aimed at combating hate speech online. The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) welcomes the decision as it highlights the key role of the freedom of expression for a democratic society and calls for a more proportionate approach. The ruling  mirrors concerns highlighted by CCIA following the adoption by the French Assembly. 

The Constitutional Court says that the legislation “undermines freedom of expression and communication in a way that is not appropriate, necessary and proportionate to the aim pursued” making the text not compatible with the French constitution. The French law required platforms to takedown manifestly illegal content upon notification within 24 hours. Among others, the law targeted any hateful attack on someone’s “dignity” on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. 

The Court also struck down the one-hour removal deadline for terrorist propaganda and child pornographic contents as it contradicts the French Penal code (Art 227-3 and 421-2-5). 

Today’s court ruling sends a strong message to the EU negotiations on the Regulation on preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online which also includes a one-hour removal deadline. It will likely also influence the on-going discussion around the forthcoming EU Digital Services Act proposal which is expected to clarify digital services’ responsibilities toward the presence of illegal content on their services.  

The following can be attributed to CCIA Senior Public Policy Manager, Victoria de Posson: 

“We welcome the French Constitutional Court’s Decision as it underscores the fundamental role of freedom of expression in a democratic society. We agree with the Court on the need to tackle hate speech online in a way that is balanced and proportional. The text adopted by the French Assembly could have led to automated filters causing over-removals of lawful content and harming legitimate free speech. It would disproportionately burden startups that don’t have the needed technical tools and legal expertise.”

For media inquiries, please contact: Heather Greenfield hgreenfield@ccianet.org

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