TikTok banned by government in New Caledonia, marking a historic move in French territory

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal announced, on May 15, several measures to deal with the violent clashes which have shaken New Caledonia for three days and have already left five people dead. Among these measures, the deployment of soldiers to secure the territory's ports and airport, but also the ban on the social network TikTok, belonging to the Chinese company ByteDance. A series of decisions taken a few hours after the establishment of the state of emergency on the archipelago.

At the origin of these riots, a constitutional bill expanding the electoral body on the archipelago, which would work to the disadvantage of the Kanak separatists. The text was adopted by the National Assembly during the night from Tuesday to Wednesday. Without an agreement between the separatists and the loyalists (anti-independenceists), the Congress will meet “before the end of June” to vote for the constitutional revision, declared yesterday Emmanuel Macron.

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The ban already in force on mobile

Matignon clarified that this ban on TikTok in New Caledonia was “in force”And “works operationally” on cell phones across the archipelago. A quick measure to put in place, the mobile telephone infrastructure in the ocean territory being managed by a single operator, Mobilis. The latter belongs to the Office of Posts and Telecommunications of New Caledonia (OPT-NC).

From a technical point of view, blocking a site or application is usually done by hijacking the domain name system (DNS), which associates Internet domain names with their IP addresses or other record types. In this case, the authorities would then ask the OPT-NC to send users to an incorrect address to prevent their access. The measure only seems to concern, for the moment, mobile phones, and has limited effectiveness: by using a VPN or by modifying your connection settings, it is theoretically still possible to access the application.

Blocking must not harm fundamental freedoms

Gabriel Attal did not specify the reasons for a blockage particularly targeting TikTok. However, since the start of the riots, the application has been widely used by certain individuals to express their political opinions, find meeting points for demonstrations, or even transmit calls for violence.

The decision to block TikTok is justified by the non-absolute nature of the freedom to demonstrate. “Citizens have the right to demonstrate, it is a fundamental freedom, provided for by the laws, but there must be no disturbance of public order, explains to The Digital Factory Alexandre Lazarègue, lawyer in digital law and new technologies. If there is a risk for internal security the government can prohibit a demonstration, and prohibit any means of communication likely to provoke riots or a disturbance of public order, if this is justified.

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Possible recourses

This ban is not necessarily taken in reaction to the establishment of the state of emergency a few hours earlier: “The state of emergency is an additional means, continues the lawyer. It would have been possible to restrict social networks in the absence of a state of emergency, but this can only be implemented in the event of a particular risk of disturbing public order.” Such a blocking of a social network by the French authorities is unprecedented. However, the subject was put on the table last year, during the riots following the death of Nahel M. At the time, the social network Snapchat was singled out, and in particular its geolocation functionality, which could have favored the illegal assembly of certain individuals.

The measure can nevertheless be contested, in summary proceedings, in particular for non-respect of freedom of communication. “The government is subject to a judge, who will examine whether the decision, taken within a limited period, is proportionate to fundamental freedoms, says Alexandre Lazarègue. Those who have an interest in contesting such a measure could file an administrative appeal and overturn this decision.” TikTok has, for the moment, not reacted to this ban. The appeal can also be initiated by New Caledonian citizens, or by associations established in New Caledonia and impacted by this blockage.

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