Sunday, April 5, 2009

HADOPI: a great blow to freedom of expression and justice in France

Here I am, utterly disgusted. Last Thursday, around 11pm, two dozens of members of Assemblée Nationale (one of the two parliament chambers in France) voted the infamous law nicknamed HADOPI. Great... For the record, this chamber in principle counts 577 members.

This law is an awful blow to the Internet, the freedom of expression and the legal system in France. The official aim of this law is to put a stop to illegal file-sharing within France. With this law, specially appointed private companies will file accusations saying: this IP downloaded something illegal at this date to a central authority, and this authority will send two warnings before cutting the Internet connection of the alleged illegal downloader for up to a year. You will notice that there is no mention of what the incriminated person allegedly downloaded. There will be no possibility of appeal until the sanction is executed.

This scares the hell out of me.

This spits upon so many aspects of the French legal system that it is honestly impressive... What about the French principle that says that everyone is innocent until proven guilty ? Here, you are declared guilty based on a rather weak evidence (on IP address !), and you'll have to prove your innocence. What about the principle that there needs to be a fair trial before the execution of the sanction ? You'll have to prove you are innocent after the execution, with the additional fun that it will turn almost impossible to prove it. Not to mention the fact that the companies harvesting IP addresses of alleged offenders will have a great deal of access to data you're exchanging; what about privacy ? For the record, this privilege, violating the way justice works in France, had only ever be granted to anti-terrorist cells.

The fun thing is that this law is useless, at least in terms of the its official goal: the day it comes into application, illegal file sharers will encrypt their exchanges or fake their IP addresses, or do whatever else they might want to do to guarantee their anonymity, and no company will ever be able to find out what it is they exchange. I won't even mention the number of false positive of these automatic accusations: many innocent French web surfers will have their connection cut without ever knowing why and without any possibility to fight back.

So, what is the real goal ? Or what will be the use ?

I can only speculate, of course, but it is tempting to think that this law could be used to regulate what is being expressed from France on the web. Someone is saying disturbing things ? Well, easy to shut him/her up: either fake downloads from his/her IP address or bribe a company into filing false accusations, and you'll effectively remove his/her connection while having the opportunity to further discredit the person by publicly disclosing that he/she is such a pirate that their connection was cut... Sounds neat, doesn't it ? In my childhood, teachers kept on saying that France is the country of human rights, but I can't help thinking this is less and less the case[1].

Well. That was a long rant. But I can't keep it inside: this is touching me too much. I'll add that I'm not downloading anything, and I don't have anything a priori against laws which would tend to regulate illegal file sharing. I just don't think that the (small) profits of a few justify spitting upon the freedom and the elementary rights of all people living in France. Further information, in French, can be found there. The full text of the project can be found on the website of Assemblée Nationale.

[1] Please don't get me wrong. There are many countries where life is definitely more difficult than here, and where human rights are constantly scorned upon, which is fortunately not the case here yet.