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Does the French government have the right to ban TikTok in New Caledonia?

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal announced on Tuesday the ban on the social network TikTok in New Caledonia in a series of measures aimed at ensuring security.

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Does the French government have the right to ban TikTok in New Caledonia?

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal announced on Tuesday the ban on the social network TikTok in New Caledonia in a series of measures aimed at ensuring security. The territory has been plagued by violence since Monday after the passage of a constitutional revision which did not pass with the separatists. An unprecedented decision linked to the state of emergency declared this Wednesday in the department. Contacted by Le Figaro, the platform has not yet reacted to this announcement. According to our information, the ban is already in force and operational on phones. It is the post and telecommunications office of New Caledonia which has intervened since yesterday to block access to the application.

TikTok, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, is one of the preferred vectors of communication between groups who have been committing violence for three nights in New Caledonia. This ban also comes against a backdrop of fear of interference and disinformation on social networks coming from foreign countries which would seek to fuel tensions, government and security sources told AFP, referring to countries like the China or Azerbaijan.

But does the government really have the right to ban TikTok from its fellow citizens? According to the lawyer Maître Eolas it is not impossible, if “it is a temporary ban, within the framework of the state of emergency”, he explains on X (ex-twitter) . “If it turns out that rioters are using TikTok to provoke armed rebellion and coordinate, this is a measure that can be proportionate to the need to restore order and public safety.”

More precisely, it is article 11 of the law of 1955 relating to the state of emergency, substantially modified by the law of November 2015, which allows the Minister of the Interior and the prefect to suspend the use of TikTok in France. “The Minister of the Interior may take any measure to ensure the interruption of any online public communication service provoking the commission of acts of terrorism or advocating them,” specifies this amendment, passed in 2015 after the Islamist attacks that hit the country.

“In short, we allow administrative power to limit access to social networks on its interpretation of terrorism. A measure that already raised questions in 2015, since there is no real possibility of contesting it as such,” Nicolas Hervieu, professor of public law, confirmed to Le Figaro. The lawyer questions precisely the definition of terrorism attributed to acts of violence on the territory. “Certainly these are very serious acts. Particularly with the death of the gendarme today,” he continues. “But in the strict sense of the law, we are not in the very definition of terrorism.”

Others do not necessarily share this point of view. “What is happening in New Caledonia is not (just) ‘big demonstrations’. These are violent riots. A gendarme was killed and find out what happened there in 1985 and 1988,” emphasizes Maître Eolas on his X account. The legal practitioner refers to two moments of violence between the separatists and the anti -independence activists who caused deaths.

In practice, telecom operators must also be forced to suspend the TikTok server address. This would make it impossible to download, or where applicable, open the application. A possibility here also allowed by article 11 of the law relating to the state of emergency. “The government can in fact order TikTok to cut off access to its services in the territory within 24 hours and if it does not does not do it, it is the telecom operators who will ask it,” confirms Nicolas Hervieu. “But what is quite surprising this time is that the minister wants the application to be suspended immediately. Which doesn’t seem possible.”

To contest this decision, the citizens of New Caledonia could consider an interim relief against the decision of the Minister of the Interior based “on the manifest illegality of this decision taking into account the deadline requested from the platform” , concludes the lawyer. According to our information, the platform had yet to contact the government regarding the announcement of its ban on the territory.

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