Is the government’s decision legal?

Is the government’s decision legal?
Is the government’s decision legal?

This Wednesday, May 15, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal announced the immediate ban on TikTok in New Caledonia. After several days of riots in the archipelago, widely relayed on the Chinese social network, the government finally decided to act. The question of the ban had already arisen in 2023, at the time of the riots which followed the assassination of young Naël in Nanterre. This time, the decision is made. The High Commissioner of the Republic, Louis Le Franc asked the establishment of a state of emergency and the ban on TikTok. A request to which the government responded favorably.

Can we really ban TikTok in France?

Banning TikTok is not a new topic. In the United States and internationally, the social network is regularly singled out for its dark patterns and its opaque links with the Chinese government. This time, however, the reasons given are very different. It is in fact to avoid the massive spread of information in a crisis context — allowing in particular the rioters to coordinate their actions — that the government has chosen to ban the platform, with immediate effect.

In mainland France, such a decision would be impossible. In a similar context, the subject should have required a agreement at European level, as well as the participation of all the operators concerned. In New Caledonia (French territory), the situation is different. The archipelago’s telecommunications do not depend on the European Union, in the same way as Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna or Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. It is therefore possible to make local decisions more easily. In addition, there is only one telecom operator, which also acts as a local regulator. The Office of Posts and Telecommunications of New Caledonia (OPT-NC) is in sole control, which makes it much simpler to block a platform in the event of an official decision.

Legality that raises questions

On a practical level, there is no problem blocking access to TikTok in New Caledonia. The OPT-NC simply had to block affected IP addresses, and to modify the DNS system which allows a URL to be linked to its website or application. On the other hand, the decision attracted widespread criticism. The blocking of online communication services under the state of emergency is normally possible only in the context of the fight against terrorism, in accordance with law 55-385 of 1955, which defines the conditions for the application of a state of emergency. In the case of the riots on the archipelago, the link with terrorism is not obvious.

Moreover, TikTok ban is easily circumvented. This is also the problem with all attempts to ban a site or platform. For Internet users, a simple VPN or modification of DNS settings will be enough to simulate a foreign connection, and to access TikTok despite the bans in force.

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