Towards mandatory identity verification on social networks?

Members of parliament are considering making it compulsory to verify the identity of Internet users before they can access social networks. However, many experts believe that this measure would be difficult to implement without violating European law.

According to Eric Le Quellenec, a lawyer specializing in new technologies, no other nation, with the exception of China, has adopted such a measure. MPs from the Renaissance party have tabled amendments to the bill to secure and regulate the digital space (SREN). These amendments would require users of platforms such as Facebook, TikTok or Instagram to confirm their identity. Supporters of this measure claim that it aims to combat online impunity and hate speech, which would be encouraged by the use of pseudonyms.

However, the government does not support these amendments, arguing that they could be contrary to European law. This analysis is shared by many specialist lawyers.

In France, complete anonymity on the Internet does not really exist, as the law allows the use of pseudonyms. European law does not explicitly mention pseudonymity, but it does prohibit the implementation of permanent, generalized surveillance of social networks, as stated in a 2000 directive. This implies the possibility of pseudonymity to protect expression without directly revealing the identity of individuals.

According to Eric Le Quellenec, a lawyer specializing in new technologies, forcing users to certify their identity beforehand, even with the mediation of a third party and the intervention of a judge to lift anonymity, would be incompatible with European law. This would mean a major change, moving from a system of total freedom to a declarative regime, where identity would take precedence, which would constitute an inversion of fundamental values.

Several rulings by the European Court of Human Rights confirm that anonymity is an essential element of freedom of expression.

Eric Barbry, from Racine, shares the same point of view, asserting that in practice, removing anonymity would work neither from a technical nor a legal point of view. It is unlikely that the French Constitutional Council or the European Commission will validate projects that prohibit anonymity. Acting under a pseudonym is not a crime, nor is publishing a book or article under a pseudonym. Although platforms require truthful information when creating accounts, they are not obliged to verify or certify it.

However, the experts regret that tracking down the perpetrators of pseudonymous offenses is often complex and time-consuming, even if investigators can legally requisition operators to obtain IP addresses in the most serious cases.

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Pierre Pontier General Manager, Namirial France

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