France is currently considering an omnibus bill, the Digital Republic Bill, designed to cover a host of policy issues in digital, internet and technology areas – including two dear to TeleRead readers: encryption backdoors, and scholarly open access. A consultation procedure has been under way since September 26th, yielding in a host of amendments – reportedly some 400. The bill is now under debate prior to becoming law.
“Twenty-first century France must embrace digital technology, prepare for future developments, take up all the opportunities and shape a society that embodies the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity,” states the French government’s website on the Bill. But such noble sentiments were challenged by Republican politician Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, who offended against liberty and brotherhood with an amendment to the Bill to compel hardware manufacturers to introduce mandatory backdoors into their devices for security purposes.
All across the planet, and in the U.S. down to state level, backdoors are a contentious and politically charged issue. This time, at least, a government appears to have acted with technological good sense. France’s deputy minister for digital affairs, Axelle Lemaire, stated to French media that backdoors were potentially as vulnerable to hackers as helpful to security forces. The government rejected the amendment.
One of the other more contested subjects of the Bill is scholarly open access. One factor absent from the same debate elsewhere is the status of French-language learned journals: “the situation facing French-language HSS journals is already particularly delicate,” said one study, warning of “the disappearance of a large number of leading French HSS journals, or a deterioration in their quality” and “the weakening of a group of publishing houses or independent publishers.” Open source advocates have naturally opposed the usual arguments that publicly funded research should be publicly available. And this particular issue is still to be resolved.
Also still to be resolved is whether this whole process will enable France to take on Anglo-Saxon digital and technology companies and wrest back some influence from the likes of Google, Amazon, and other bêtes noires of French nationalists and legislators. The rigid digirisme and symptoms of the French exception don’t hold out much hope.