France’s latest proposed law may just scare off one of its biggest digital champions. After the French Government revealed a proposed law, nearly one year in the works, last month, critics jumped on what they consider to be an overreach of the government’s power without checks & balances. Among the critics, Octave Klaba, Polish-born founder of OVH.com, Europe’s largest hosting service and the 3rd largest in the world, who, in an interview with Les Echos, likened the proposed law to the communism he saw as a child in his home country of Poland. Klaba went so far as to say that, should the law pass, OVH would move its servers outside of France to avoid it.
The Roubaix-based hosting provider may have a reason to worry. While the law could only apply to French-based servers, this would unfairly affect OVH against its competitors (Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Dreamhost, etc.), as the law allows for governments to install a ‘black box’ that listens to all communication going in and out of the servers, and logs certain pre-ordained types of communication.
The proposed law is meant to curb terrorism and create the first legal framework for the government to perform surveillance – it’s not as if they aren’t already doing it, so kudos to them for trying to bring it out of the shadows – however, given that their law directly impacts hosting providers, it’s surprising that they would float such an idea when France’s largest hosting provider would be negatively impacted by it.
We could argue the merits of such a surveillance program, but the reality is that France is still thinking about itself as an isolated ecosystem, where the Internet does not know borders and governments. How can France expect a domestic surveillance law to be effective at curbing terrorism when the line between a domestic website and an internationally hosted one is invisible to users, to companies, to everyone?
It’s worth noting that the law is currently up for debate in the National Assembly, and it must also, if approved, pas through the Senate. Other controversial laws, such as the famous 75% tax for millionaires, which was declared unconstitutional after it passed through both Assembly and Senate, went through the same mediatized debate. The 2012 Pigeon movement was a reaction, as well, to a proposed law which was never passed.