Today a French government committee is expected to pronounce an opinion on a new proposal to filter and block web content.

The French media are suggesting that it represents industrial-scale filtering. Indeed, the proposal is the most far-reaching one we've seen to date. It is certainly over-broad and puts at risk both freedom of expression and free trade.

The French government proposes to give various ministries the power to order ISPs and web hosts to block content. Blocking orders could apply to commercial and non-commercial content, and potentially also to advertising and search engines.

It is all set out in a Decree which amends the existing law on electronic commerce. The Decree has been sent to the Conseil

Nationale du Numérique for an opinion, which is due today .

The Decree was uncovered by PC Inpact , and also reported by Numerama . It gives blocking powers to a long list of ministries, including defence, finance, justice, interior, trade, health and digital economy. If implemented, those ministries will have a three-step power to shut down websites, and to cut off web content.

The grounds for blocking are that the content threatens or puts risk any of the following: public security, protection of minors, public health, national defence, or the protection of individuals who may be consumers or investors.

Firstly, they may demand of the content owner that it be taken down. If the owner does not respond within 72 hours, they can go to the company which owns the host server. If, after another 72 hours, the host company has not taken action, they may ask the ISPs to block.

There is an addtitional power to go direct to the ISPs in cases of urgency. There is no requirement for them to apply to a court to get the blocking order, it seems they may impose it directly.

PC Inpact has highlighted that, although the title of the law is 'electronic commerce', the Decree affects much more than just commercial websites. The fear is that it could be used to block political content, where wikileaks is a case in point.

There also appear to be no guidelines or criteria for blocking, which means the individual ministries would be able to determine blocking orders at their own discretion. In that scenario, it leaves a wide open door for commercial interest, and wealthy private individuals to suppress content which does not suit them.

I'm thinking not only of copyright, or 'big pharma', but also of those wealthy individuals who will use it to cover up scandals.

La Quadrature du Net have said it violates the principle of separation of powers, and called it censorship.