What is really happening here is that the French government is preparing the ground to create a framework to block more and more websites while potentially creating a database of citizens’ sexual preferences. France has already blocked websites via court decisions in the Sci-Hub and LibGen cases since 2019. When these blockages occurred, Library Genesis posted on Facebook to their users:
“Dear users in France, we are sorry to tell you that LibGen and Sci-Hub have been blocked in France. You must now use a VPN to access our site or Sci-Hub in France. “
Once the law is passed and the CSA begins to have power, expect that many other sites will be blocked. As we have seen in similar age verification schemes in the UK, we can expect a lot of collateral damage as sites that do not contain pornography are caught in the crossfire. Under the new law, the CSA can request a court order to order the ISPs and French telecommunications data providers to block a website only fifteen days after a first warning.
We do not know how France could even verify the age
The government has made some proposals on how electronic age verification would work. One idea proposed by senators was to use FranceConnect – the same tool used by the government to verify identities for tax and health insurance purposes. This idea was so rejected that senators had to back off and publicly suggest that FranceConnect would not be used. Another idea would be to require the use of credit card numbers as a means of verification. At this time, it is unclear how the age verification process would work. Marie Mercier, rapporteur in the Senate, told POLITICO:
“We voted on a principle, which is to give to the CSA the obligation to supervise the protection of the minors, but the CSA is free to find the good way for the sites to comply with their injunction.”
In the UK, it was once considered that users should buy pornographic passes in the corner store and show identification during this transaction. In Australia, it has been proposed to use facial recognition for age verification to match Internet users to government identifiers. Establishing a framework and leaving it up to government to decide how to apply it means that plans like these are not really excluded.
This law is a building block in the Great Firewall of France
Legislators are convinced that this is only a framework for protecting children; however, the reality is that it is a framework for violating privacy. Another part of the application of the new law that has not yet been defined is how ISPs and telecommunications will have to implement blocking. While some countries stick to easily bypassed DNS blocks, other countries like South Korea go further with SNI (Server Name Indication). As new technologies such as encrypted server name indication (eSNI) are used more widely, regular DNS blocks will not be as effective. Of course, the furthest end of the spectrum is the controlled splinternet that is found in China under China’s big firewall. Make no mistake: this new law and this new framework are giving carte blanche to the French government to develop a large firewall in France and it would be naive to think that it will not be used as such.