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French top court strikes down proposed law against online hate speech, calls it ‘unconstitutional’

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The highest French constitutional authority struck down most of the country’s online hate speech law on June 18, calling it “unconstitutional” as it would have impinged on citizen’s freedom of expression, did not give platforms enough time to get a judicial warrant for content removal or ascertain whether the content was truly violative, and made platforms responsible for the adjudication of content instead of a judicial authority so that they could avoid heavy penalties. The Wall Street Journal first reported this.

Conseil Constitutionnel is the highest constitutional authority in France that is responsible for ensuring that proposed statues abide by the Constitution after they have been voted by the Parliament and before they are signed into law by the French president.

The French National Assembly had passed this law on May 13 and had approved it as a bill in July 2019. Under the proposed law, it would have been mandatory for social media companies to remove hateful comments within 24 hours of them being flagged by users while terrorist content and child pornography would have to be removed within one hour of being flagged. If platforms failed to do so, they would have faced a fine of up to €1.25 million or up to 4% of their global turnover.

The Constitutional Court, thus, said that given the heavy penalties and short duration for content adjudication, the platforms would have removed all flagged content, without ascertaining whether or not it was hate speech and thus illegal.

The proposed amendments to Indian Intermediary Rules also state that if an intermediary is notified by a government agency under Section 79(3)(b) of the Information Technology Act, or receives a court order, it has to remove or disable access to violative content immediately as far as possible “but in no case later than twenty-four hours”. These amendments are currently under consideration.

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