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French Constitutional Council Invalidates Online Hate Speech Law on Freedom of Speech Grounds

Publications / Jun 30, 2020

Article written by Haim Ravia, Dotan Hammer and Adi Shoval

The French Constitutional Council struck-down most of the provisions of the French Hate Speech Law which would require operators of online platforms to remove manifestly illegal content within 24 hours.

The law defines removable content as any content that supports crimes against humanity, incites acts of terrorism, advocates such acts or incites hatred, violence or discrimination, or insults a person or group of persons on the grounds of origin, race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. Violation of the bill is punishable with a penalty of up to 4% of the online operator’s global annual revenue.

In its decision, the Council explained that the law places the onus for analyzing content solely on technology platforms without judicial review, within a very short timescale, and with the threat of hefty penalties. The Council expressed concern that this approach will motivate online providers to broadly remove content to avoid the hefty fines, thus causing a disproportionate adverse chilling effect on freedom of speech.

The Council’s decision was praised by technology companies such as Facebook and Google, and by politicians from both sides of the political map. However, one lawmaker who originally sponsored the bill indicated her intent to improve the unprecedented legislation to accommodate the Council’s concerns while also preserving its purpose.

CLICK HERE to read the Constitutional Council’s decision (in French).

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