French Press Uncover Government Plan to Mandate Age Verification

French Press Uncover Government Plan to Mandate Age Verification

PARIS — Anonymous sources have leaked the alleged plans of France’s Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel, a regulatory government body similar to the American FCC, to compel adult sites “before the end of the year” to immediately implement a form of age verification under penalty of being deplatformed by internet service providers.

The sources claim the CSA is planning to effect age verification not by requiring government-issued IDs but by forcing users intending to watch adult content — however it is defined by the French government or its  officers — to provide credit card information.

The information was originally leaked to reporter Sébastien Dumoulin of online news site Les Echos, and was then disseminated by other press outlets.

Two weeks ago, as XBIZ reported, WGCZ — the parent company of tube site XVideos and several other international adult companies — hired the prestigious international business law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, as well as a firm linked to powerful French communications and marketing conglomerate Havas, to lobby government regulators to limit the scope of proposed sweeping regulations on adult content.

Les Echos reporter Dumoulin prefaced his report of the government’s plans by calling the current status quo “manifestly illegal,” a loaded assessment that sheds some light on his position on age verification.

Dumoulin's sources claim that the CSA “will be sending formal notices to certain porn sites before the end of the year. They will then have two weeks to comply with the law.” The law being referenced is a domestic violence law passed by the French Parliament in 2020, which included an amendment mandating age verification for viewing adult content online.   

If sites fail to comply, Dumoulin reported, the CSA can then ask the Judicial Court of Paris to order internet service providers to block them.

“Clearly, the judiciary may require telecom operators to prevent French internet users from accessing porn sites that are too easily searchable by minors,” Dumoulin gloated.

No Blanket Free Speech Protection

Like other European nations, France does not have blanket Free Speech protections similar to those provided by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. Moreover, the adult content community appears divided on the age verification issue. Large production companies with lucrative paysites and broadcast deals, such as Dorcel, have collaborated with the Macron government in drafting policies in favor of of A.V. implementation, while tube site owners have fought against these efforts.

Back in March, WGCZ began circulating a survey gathering public opinion about privacy concerns surrounding the new age verification requirement. The document pointed out that fewer than 10% of representatives were present during the vote, which was held while parliamentary work was being disrupted by the COVID pandemic, and that none of the legislators were asked about the law’s consequences or the method of age verification to be employed.

“If you ask yourself, as we do, what does pornography have to do with domestic violence, you’d be given this explanation: people can be induced to see and then reproduce ‘violent’ sexual practices seen online,” the WGCZ-sponsored statement noted.

Implementation of the French law has been delayed because it requires approval from the EU.

Private Groups Seeking to Accelerate the Decision

As Les Echos’ report points out, private French organizations have been attempting to expedite enforcement of the A.V. mandate through lawsuits, the most notable of which was a complaint this past fall by French nonprofits purporting to advocate for “children’s welfare.”

The organizations e-Enfance (“e-Childhood”) and La Voix de l’Enfant (“The Voice of the Child”) assert that sites such as Pornhub, TuKif, XNXX, xHamster, XVideos, Redtube and YouPorn “make pornographic content accessible to minors and do not verify the age of those browsing or they merely make them check a box stating they are over 18,” as the groups' lawyer, Laurent Bayon, told newspaper Le Figaro in September, when announcing a lawsuit trying to compel ISPs to block those sites in France.

The lawsuit was rejected in October in favor of the defendants, the French ISPs Orange, SFR, Bouygues Télécom, Free, Colt Technologies Services and Outre mer Télécomare.

Mandatory Credit Card Data Collection to Look at Sexual Content

Dumoulin's article also noted that the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés — the government consortium that is the national arbiter of online rights — is “reluctant" to require users to produce identification to connect to porn sites. However, it would be “open to a solution based on a payment card, with a transaction of zero euros.”

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