French public asked to review digital rights bill

AFP / Archive picture I French Internet users have an unprecedented opportunity to shape the new law

France will release the text of a forthcoming parliamentary bill on digital rights to the public months before it is debated in parliament in an unprecedented gesture of “collaborative democracy”.


It is the first time a proposed law has been offered to the public for a first reading, a move Prime Minister Manuel Valls said was made after consulting leaders of France’s IT industry.

Valls referred to the initial text – to be published online at the end of June with a call for public comments, suggestions and amendments – as a “Beta” version of the bill, an industry term used to describe software that is still in development but released for public testing. He emphasised that the bill will aim to guarantee the “neutrality” of the web.

While borrowing from the “open source” philosophy of software development (where programmes and operating systems are developed by open collaborative communities rather than secretive “closed source” commercial ventures), the bill will still rely heavily on lawmakers and the parliamentary process before it goes into law.

“It’s totally experimental,” a source at the prime minister’s office told AFP, adding the caveat that it was not intended to set a precedent for all future laws. “Maybe it will be a marvellous success, and maybe it will be a complete flop.”

The text of the bill will be available for public scrutiny much earlier than normal – most proposed laws are published just after they are presented to the cabinet at the beginning of the autumn parliamentary term.

The bill is expected to include measures that would give Internet users greater power over their personal data, often held by US-based giants such as Google, Apple and Facebook, and to allow “portability” of their history and preferences when switching between service providers and social networks.

Valls said he wants to the right to an Internet connection to be guaranteed for lower-income households, and that government data should be made “open by default”.

The country’s labyrinthine employment portals could also be merged into a single “jobs store” as part of the government’s bid to reduce France’s soaring unemployment.

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