Mozilla, the foundation that produces the Firefox browser explains:
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.
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.
The rest of the post will provide a brief overview of the
current state of phishing protection systems in browsers, the distinction between industry practices and what the draft law proposes, and proposes alternatives to achieve the goals of the legislation in a less extreme manner.
might seem that current malware and phishing protection industry practices are not so different from the French proposal. This is far from the truth, where the key differentiating factor is that they do not block websites but merely warn users about the
risks and allow them to access the websites if they choose to accept it. No such language is present in the current proposal, which is focused on blocking. Neither are there any references to privacy preserving implementations or mechanisms to prevent
this feature from being utilized for other purposes. In fact, a government being able to mandate that a certain website not open at all on a browser/system is uncharted territory and even the most repressive regimes in the world prefer to block websites
further up the network (ISPs, etc.) so far.
Forcing browsers to create capabilities that enable website blocking at the browser level is a slippery slope. While it might be leveraged only for malware and phishing in France today,
it will set a precedent and create the technical capability within browsers for whatever a government might want to restrict or criminalize in a given jurisdiction forever. A world in which browsers can be forced to incorporate a list of banned websites
at the software-level that simply do not open, either in a region or globally, is a worrying prospect that raises serious concerns around freedom of expression. If it successfully passes into law, the precedent this would set would make it much harder
for browsers to reject such requests from other governments.
We remain engaged in conversations with relevant stakeholders and hope that the final law leads to a more palatable outcome for the open internet.