The French Interior Ministry on Monday ordered that five websites be blocked on the grounds that they promote or advocate terrorism. "I do not want to see sites that could lead people to take up arms on the Internet," proclaimed Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.
When the block functions properly, visitors to those banned sites, rather than accessing the content of the sites they chose to visit, will be automatically redirected to the Interior Ministry website. There, they will be greeted by a graphic of a large red hand, and text informing them that they were attempting to access a site that causes or promotes terrorism: "you are being redirected to this official website since your computer was about to connect with a page that provokes terrorist acts or condones terrorism publicly."
No judge reviews the Interior Ministry's decisions. The minister first requests that the website owner voluntarily remove the content he deems transgressive; upon disobedience, the minister unilaterally issues the order to Internet service providers for the sites to be blocked. This censorship power is vested pursuant to a law recently enacted in France empowering the interior minister to block websites.
Forcibly taking down websites deemed to be supportive of terrorism, or criminalizing speech deemed to "advocate" terrorism, is a major trend in both Europe and the West generally. Last month in Brussels, the European Union's counter-terrorism coordinator issued a memo proclaiming that "Europe is facing an unprecedented, diverse and serious terrorist threat," and argued that increased state control over the Internet is crucial to combating it.
The memo noted that "the EU and its Member States have developed several initiatives related to countering radicalisation and terrorism on the Internet," yet argued that more must be done. It argued that the focus should be on "working with the main players in the Internet industry [a]s the best way to limit the circulation of terrorist material online." It specifically hailed the tactics of the U.K. Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU), which has succeeded in causing the removal of large amounts of material it deems "extremist":