The French Senate passed a controversial new law Wednesday that would punish people who illegally share copyrighted music or movies by taking away their right to use the Internet for as long as a year, on a three-strikes-you're-out basis.
Digital civil rights advocates say they are horrified because the law completely does away with due process.
"There's no judge keeping an eye on this," says Danny O'Brien, who coordinates international outreach efforts for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "There's no right of appeal, and it's entirely separate from the usual judicial system."
Proof is not necessary under the new law. A record company simply has to say j'accuse!, and an organization still to be created by the French government will sever the suspect's Internet connection.
It's now up to the country's version of the Supreme Court to approve the law, and it ultimately may be trumped by the European Union.
The French government was reportedly under pressure from the lobbying arm of the international music industry. Despite its best efforts, file-sharing worldwide has only increased.
But O'Brien says innocent people have been prosecuted, and the system can be gamed. It's especially easy to make mistakes in places where the Internet is public, like cybercafes.
"The French government has come up with some interesting suggestions for this," O'Brien says. "One was that anybody who has an open WiFi network should just shut it down — or only allow a certain white list of Web sites for people to visit."
O'Brien says he is surprised that the home of liberty, France, is the first country to implement laws he describes as draconian. He's not alone: Sixty percent of French citizens oppose the rule. Predictably, they have begun manning the cyberbarricades.