France hopes to force Microsoft Edge and others to censor websites at a browser level

From Windows Central:

Web browsers like Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Firefox may be forced to block websites at a software level if the French government has its way. 

In a blog post penned by Firefox’s parent company Mozilla, the firm warned on the potential chilling effects the so-called SREN Bill currently travelling through the French regulatory system could have on web browsers, and the free internet at large too. 

Article 6 of the bill describes the French government’s desire to force web browsers to bake in tools that would function as filters, acting as a mandatory content blocker for a government-backed list. It’s not as if these sorts of laws haven’t existed previously. Totalitarian-leaning states like Russia and China already have pervasive internet control tools, but even self-described democracies like Australia and the UK have some over-reaching laws revolving around government snooping and censorship on the web. I distinctly remember my UK ISP blocking Pirate Bay with a big red warning label at one point, although the ban seems to have been relatively short-lived (since it’s once again available now). 

What’s different here is the mechanism being sought after by the French government. By operating at a browser level, it would give the government a disturbing amount of power, while putting pressure on web browsers to fund systems that could be exploited by totalitarian states. 

“In a well-intentioned yet dangerous move to fight online fraud, France is on the verge of forcing browsers to create a dystopian technical capability. Article 6 (para II and III) of the SREN Bill would force browser providers to create the means to mandatorily block websites present on a government-provided list. Such a move will overturn decades of established content moderation norms and provide a playbook for authoritarian governments that will easily negate the existence of censorship circumvention tools.”

Mozilla elaborates that, while on the surface, it might not seem wildly different from tools like Microsoft Smart Screen which automatically blocks sites reported as being hotspots for phishing and malware attacks, the key differentiator is that Smart Screen and other similar tools can be bypassed easily by users if necessary. These mechanisms sought after by the French government would simply be a permanent block on any website or platform they see fit. 

. . . .

While these kinds of features may be well-intentioned (seriously giving the benefit of the doubt here), having these sorts of systems in place allows future potential governments to exploit them for political gain while remaining within “legal” definitions. Perhaps more crucially, they also never really work in practice. The idea that the French government could somehow prevent the free flow of information this way is asinine, and likely serve only to give browser firms a big headache. The open-source community would have forked versions without government controls prepped in minutes. And then, the potential for legitimate users getting caught out by actual malware would undoubtedly increase, if they had to seek open tools from perhaps less-than-legitimate sources.

The UK is also pushing similar bills through its parliament at the moment. The so-called “Online Safety Bill” would force companies like Microsoft to bake in government-mandated back doors into apps with end-to-end encryption. It would kill apps like WhatsApp, Telegram, and other services that rely on strong encryption methods to keep user data private.  Firms like WhatsApp and Signal have even threatened to exit the UK entirely over the bill. The government often says these bills are about preventing crime, but when governments have a monopoly on violence and incarceration, the definition of crime can shift very quickly. You need only look at the complete and total erosion of free speech in nations like Hong Kong and Russia, where, increasingly, criticism of the government can land you with lengthy prison terms (or worse). Both the UK and French governments have earned themselves a lot of criticism lately …

Link to the rest at Windows Central and thanks to F. for the tip

PG suggests that governments can’t prevent the spread of information and he predicts that, should such stupid and gormless laws be passed, information in the form of unimpaired browsers would be quickly smuggled, likely online, into nations with such bans. Other methods of escaping such software restrictions include satellite internet on the high end and VPNs and thumb drives lower down. If the British ISP’s are dragged into the enforcement process, going to internet service providers offshore will become very much easier.

The whole thing would degenerate into a whack-a-mole game with smart technical people frustrating the drones applying government bans on an ongoing basis. Built into its fundamental bones, the internet is very fault-tolerant and it will route information around censorship just like it would around hardware failures on the network.

One additional point – English and French businesses are in competition with companies all over the world. PG suspects requiring these businesses to use crippled internet software could lead to a lack of competitiveness against businesses without crippled internet services.

The proposals in the UK and France bring to mind the Great Firewall of China. Do the politicians in England and France want to emulate that degree of authoritarian control over the speech and interactions of their citizens interacting with each other and with other people around the world.

2 thoughts on “France hopes to force Microsoft Edge and others to censor websites at a browser level”

  1. “The proposals in the UK and France bring to mind the Great Firewall of China. Do the politicians in England and France want to emulate that degree of authoritarian control over the speech and interactions of their citizens interacting with each other and with other people around the world?”

    Absolutely.
    They already are.
    And are moving to more and more control over more and more things.
    More so in the US.

    The DHS “ministry of truth” was just an attempt to formalize what has been going on for over a decade.

    Again, here:

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=gdmbTggyESg&pp=ygUYYW1lcmljYSB1bmNvdmVyZWQgc3BlZWNo

    It’s gotten to the point the DOJ is suing SpaceX for *obeying* the ITAR regulations as written.

    Wait a bit, France is just a bit ahead of DC, though Canada is ahead of everybody this side of EASTASIA.

  2. Sooner or later, the Deep State is going to back some sufficiently clever and resourceful public figure (perhaps an unpredictable tech oligarch or a populist politician) into the same no-win legal corner that Julius Caesar found himself in when the Optimates sought to destroy him, and the results will be world-historical.

Comments are closed.