How the state agency Viginum will work in France against disinformation

How the state agency Viginum will work in France against disinformation

France created the Viginum agency to counter the use of disinformation as a tool of political destabilization. All the details in the article by Giuseppe Gagliano

French prime minister Jean Castex confirms the creation of an agency to combat information manipulation. It should be put in place in September and should make it possible to combat "the information threat and foreign interference in the public debate". Called "Viginum," its workforce will grow to reach 50 agents in January 2022.

The creation of “Viginum” was registered on Wednesday with a special decree law. The birth of this new entity had already been announced during a hearing with the Secretary General of Defense and Homeland Security (SGDSN) in early June.

WHAT WILL VIGINUM

The “surveillance and protection service against foreign digital interference” will have the mission of responding to the “great challenge of the information threat and foreign interference in the public debate”, indicates the report of the Council of Ministers. In particular, Viginum must "identify transactions that directly or indirectly involve a foreign state or a non-state foreign body aimed at the artificial or automated, massive and deliberate dissemination, through an online public communication service, of manifestly inaccurate accusations or misleading aimed at harming the fundamental interests of the Nation ".

Vigiunum's staff will be made up of (analysts, data engineers, digital media experts, etc.) who will work in open source, i.e. from public sources as pointed out by Stéphane Bouillon during his hearing at the National Assembly. "It is not a question of making intelligence, what interests us is what is becoming an information pandemic" and whether it comes from "a foreign country or a foreign organization that thus aims to destabilize the state on a political level".

WHO WILL CONTROL IT

The service, reporting to the Prime Minister, will be placed under the authority of the Secretary General of Defense and National Security, already in charge of carrying out inter-ministerial missions in the field of defense and national security. An ethics and scientific committee, chaired by a member of the Council of State (superior administrative jurisdiction), in turn assisted by a member of the Superior Audiovisual Council (CSA), "will have the task of monitoring the activity of this service and will be able to make any recommendations ”, the government specifies.

Given the importance of fake news for destabilization purposes, various electoral deadlines will be the object of particular attention in the coming months, explained the SGDSN as did the general elections in Germany at the end of September, "in order to learn from it".

THE TASK FORCE HONFLEUR

This agency follows the "Honfleur Task Force", mobilized in February by the President of the Republic following a disinformation campaign on social networks after the assassination of Samuel Paty. The goal was to detect and understand this attack and ultimately concluded that its origin was Turkish.

This awareness of foreign meddling, particularly in democratic decision-making, was revealed to the general public during the revelation of the state secrets that incriminated Hillary Clinton in the middle of the campaign in 2016. In France, Macron Leaks, disinformation campaign aimed at damage the LREM candidate, had surfaced on the web just two days before the second round of the 2017 presidential elections. Since then, the electoral periods have been particularly scrutinized, and this new agency has been implemented with this goal, one year before the future elections French presidential elections.

WHAT THE EUROPEAN UNION DOES

France is not a pioneer in this field. In 2015, the European Union created the East StratCom Task Force under the auspices of the European External Action Service, in order to combat disinformation among its eastern neighbors. Similarly, a Global Engagement Center was created in the United States in 2016 within the State Department, originally to combat Daesh propaganda, to which disinformation and / or foreign influence were added online. Similar initiatives have been taken in the Czech Republic or Sweden.

ELECTIONS AND DISINFORMATION

France itself is preparing for presidential elections in less than a year, and attempts to interfere in the polls have been documented. Aware of the risk that this new agency passes for an online influence tool in the service of the French executive within a year of the presidential elections, the SGDSN stresses that it will be necessary to guarantee "total transparency" on its actions. However, private actors, especially companies, are also the target of such campaigns, particularly for the dispute over expensive contracts, such as the Rafale in India or the Naval Group in Australia. It would now be a matter of considering these risks, which could harm French interests.

Regardless of the legitimacy of this agency to specifically protect disinformation for the purpose of political destabilization, it is difficult not to think if we follow the logic of reason of state – that this agency could become a tool to legitimize the power of the executive, discredit that of the opponents and above all implement a limitation of freedom of information and criticism.


This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Start Magazine at the URL https://www.startmag.it/mondo/francia-disinformazione-agenzia-viginum/ on Sun, 18 Jul 2021 08:27:28 +0000.