Mar 19, 2015 · 2 minutes

The French government has moved to block access to five websites accused of posting terrorist propaganda or supporting the so-called Islamic State. Télérama, a French magazine, reports that it plans to block another 50 sites in the near future.

The websites have been blocked with a power the French government granted itself in the wake of January's attack on Charlie Hebdo. This power allows the government to force Internet service providers to block access even without a court order.

Critics have slammed the French government's efforts and accused it of co-opting an attack many viewed as an attempt to curb free speech for its own agendas. As a member of the La Quadrature du Net advocacy group said in a February statement:

With this decree establishing the administrative censorship for Internet content, France once again circumvents the judicial power, betraying the separation of powers in limiting what is the first freedom of all in a democracy — freedom of speech. […] The measure only gives the illusion that the State is acting for our safety, while going one step further in undermining fundamental rights online.
The five websites the French government has attempted to block have raised further concerns about the government's ability to weild its new power responsibly. At issue is the blocking of "islamic-news.info," which says it has no ties to terrorist groups. As TechDirt explains in a report criticizing the efforts to block access to this site:
[The Islamic-News.info owner's] site is opinionated, but mostly just against current Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. In fact, he notes that he specifically avoided topics that might be misinterpreted to suggest that he supported terrorists. He did not share ISIS propaganda or similar content. He even points out how he denounced a Syrian fighter who argued for attacks on Europe, saying that such things would reflect poorly on Muslims in Europe.
Islamic-News.info is no longer available, so I don't know if its owner is accurately portraying the sites content or tone. Either way, blocking it without first seeking a court order opens the French government up to allegations that it's targeting those websites with which it disagrees, rather than those that might pose actual threats to the country's citizens.

Further, France's attempt to censor the Web might be undermined by its own technical inabilities. Vice News reports that several of the websites the French government has attempted to block are still available in the country. And even if they do stop French people from viewing the sites, many tools could circumvent the restrictions.

At this point it's not clear what France hopes to accomplish with this campaign of online censorship. If it can't really stop people from viewing this content, and it's not providing enough proof that it's only acting to protect its citizens, why risk the ire of people who support free speech? France's actions haven't always made a tone of sense from a global perspective, but it seems like its government is losing a lot in this case, while gaining nothing at all.