France: a Digital Law scheduled for autumn 2015

In today’s enhanced digital age, the establishment of a Digital Law was only a matter of time. Indeed, although France already possesses a Digital Law, this law dates back to 2004 and does not therefore take into account several innovative technologies such as social media, big data or smartphones.

It is against this background that the government announced, in early 2013, at a seminar on digital technology, its decision to submit a bill on digital technology during its parliamentary term.

To this end, the involvement of several special advisors as well as the French National Commission for Information Technology and Civil Liberties (Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés – CNIL) was sought; they gave their views on the subject and also made proposals with regards to areas for improvement. The government even went further by setting up an online consultation platform, inviting everyone to give their opinion on the bill on digital technology.

The first contribution was made by the National Digital Council (Conseil National du Numérique – CNN), which presented, on June 18, 2014, its report entitled “Digitial Ambition” (“Ambition numérique”) to the Prime Minister, Manuel Valls.

The report outlines 70 proposals and the bill on digital technology is expected to incorporate many of them. Amongst these proposals, the creation of a net neutrality principle for ensuring equal access to all networks regardless of the operator is to be particularly noted. Net neutrality ensures equal treatment of all data flows on the Internet and thus serves to deter any kind of discrimination against the source, destination and content of the information transmitted.

It is worth noting here that the principle of “net neutrality” is not an innovation of the CNN. Quite the contrary, it is a principle which has been the subject of intense debate and lobbying in the United States before being adopted by the Federation Communications Commission (FCC) on February 26, 2015. This principle has also been a topic of discussion within the European Commission since 2011.

Another major point addressed by the CNN is the need for platform loyalty which would take the form of new obligations imposed on the major digital players like Google and Facebook.

In addition and as it is difficult to contemplate a revision of the digital law without taking into account the protection of personal data, the CNN also proposed to strengthen the data personal protection policy, particularly in order to establish a right to be digitally forgotten.

The CNIL consequently took over the reins by making public its reform proposals regarding the protection of personal data on January 13, 2015. The primary focus of these proposals is on reinforcing the effectiveness of people’s rights, aiming particularly to strengthen the right of access or the “right to know of one’s data”, which, although essential, has hardly been used so far. However, the CNIL also wishes to establish special provisions for minors who are often the targets of data theft due to their increased use of the Internet in general and of social networks in particular.

The CNIL also proposes to simplify the formalities and rules relating to companies, especially as regards the formalities relating to international data transfers, which are currently particularly bulky.

In light of all these proposals, the Prime Minister, Manuel Valls announced on June 18, 2015, during a presentation of the government’s “digital strategy’’ before an assembly of experts, his aim to make public the new bill in July 2015. During this presentation, the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for the Digital Economy, Axelle Lemaire, notably announced that the long-awaited principle of net neutrality would be included in the law and also that the Personal Data Act would be amended.

Other measures were revealed, particularly the will of the government to set up a grande école for digital technology, to control, through inspections by competition services, the terms of use of major sites operating in France as well as to create data of public interest. Furthermore, the Secretary of State for the Digital Economy revealed the future collaboration between the French government and the Council of Europe in order to draft a citizens’ rights and digital charter.

To conclude, the government’s digital strategy highlights awill to integrate digital technology in all aspects of French people’s life, including economic, tourism, educational and health sectors. The government thus wishes to “boost France five years ahead in time to make our country a digital republic” and at the same time to provide a model to the Council of Europe for the drafting of the European regulation for 2018 on the use of personal data.