France criticised for forcing suspects to unlock phones

Activists have accused French judges of imperilling the right to a fair trial after making it an offence for a suspect to refuse to unlock their mobile phone.

France criticised for forcing suspects to unlock phones
A lawyer uses a mobile phone. (Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP)

France’s highest appeals court, the Cour de Cassation, ruled on Monday that a passcode could be regarded as a “decryption key” and refusing to hand it over was punishable by up to three years in jail and a massive fine.

Campaign group Fair Trials said in a statement that everyone had the right not to incriminate themselves, describing it as “an essential guarantee of a fair trial”.

“Forcing people to open their mobile phones threatens this right,” said the group’s Ilze Tralmaka.

“People should not be forced to actively cooperate with an investigation against them under the threat of criminal conviction.”

The court was considering the decisions of several lower courts stretching back to 2019 when a man was convicted of cannabis possession but acquitted of refusing to hand over his passcode.

The decision was upheld on appeal, rejected on higher appeal but reaffirmed by the lower court, which refused to change the decision.

Prosecutors eventually took the case to the country’s highest appeal court arguing that the initial trial judge had wrongly excluded phone passcodes from the legal definition of “decryption key”.

The Cour de Cassation agreed and ordered the case to be retried.

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How France plans to prevents youngsters accessing online pornography

France is set to announce new measures this week to prevent youngsters from accessing porn websites, in the latest round of a years-long struggle to protect children from explicit material.

How France plans to prevents youngsters accessing online pornography

“I plan to put an end to this scandal,” Digital Affairs Minister Jean-Noel Barrot told the Parisien newspaper on Monday.

France’s data protection and media regulators Cnil and Arcom are set to announce their latest proposals to rein in porn websites which are in theory subject to a 2020 law requiring age verification.

Previous attempts have been held up by privacy and technical concerns, as well as court action by the websites.

To its frustration last September, a Paris court ordered Arcom to enter into mediation with several porn websites including market leader Pornhub, holding up efforts to block them.

READ MORE: France hits Google and Facebook with huge fines over ‘cookies’

Under the new proposal, people wanting to access explicit material will need to download a phone application that provides them with a digital certificate and code, the Parisien reported.

The code will be needed to access a porn website under a system “which will work a bit like the checks from your bank when you buy something online,” Barrot told the newspaper.

“2023 will mark the end of our children accessing pornographic sites,” he added.

President Emmanuel Macron, who is married to former school teacher Brigitte Macron, promised to make protecting children from porn a priority during his bid for re-election last year.

In November, he launched the Children Online Protection Laboratory, an initiative that aims to bring together industry giants and researchers to look for ways to shield minors online.

In September last year, a report entitled “Hell Behind the Scenes” by French senators concluded that there was “massive, ordinary and toxic” viewing of porn by children.

The report found that two thirds of children aged 15 or less had seen pornographic content.

The French production industry has been roiled by a series of sexual assault cases in recent years in which women have come forward to allege rape, mistreatment and manipulation by directors and fellow actors.