The French government intends to forcibly block websites via browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, and Edge. This move could be disastrous given the impact blocking browsers may have on the future of internet browsing.
Mozilla, Firefox’s parent company, published a blog post warning about the adverse impacts the so-called SREN Bill, presently making its way through the French regulatory system, could have on web browsers and the free internet more generally.
While motivated by a legitimate concern, this move to block websites directly within the browser would be disastrous for the open internet and disproportionate to the goals of the legal proposal – fighting fraud. It will also set a worrying precedent and create technical capabilities that other regimes will leverage for far more nefarious purposes. Leveraging existing malware and phishing protection offerings rather than replacing them with government provided, device level block-lists is a far better route to achieve the goals of the legislation.Mozilla
According to Article 6 of the bill, the French government wants to implement a mandatory content blocker for a government-backed list in web browsers. It’s not like legislation like this has never been passed before. Even self-described democracies like Australia and the UK have some overreaching regulations centred around government surveillance and censorship on the web, which is especially concerning given the prevalence of internet use in these countries. Although the restriction appears to have been relatively short-lived (as Pirate Bay is once again available now), it was still implemented.
The French government is looking for a unique procedure in this case. If implemented at the browser level, it would offer governments an unsettling degree of control and force online browsers to pay for infrastructure that could be used by oppressive governments.
“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
While similar to tools like Microsoft Smart Screen, which automatically blocks sites reported to be hotspots for phishing and malware attacks, Mozilla clarifies that the main difference is that users are able to bypass Smart Screen and other similar tools if necessary. The French government wants to implement measures that would allow them to permanently prohibit access to any website or platform they so choose.
Although such additions are likely well-intended, their presence paves the way for possible administrations to use them for political gain while still technically adhering to “legal” regulations. Maybe even more importantly, they just never pan out in actual use.
Although it appears that the law will shortly be put into effect, it has not yet been implemented. Do let us know what you think about it in the comment section below