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Fwd: France implements Net-censorship charter

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>Date: 19 Mar 97 21:43:39 EST
>From: "K. N. Cukier" <100736.3602@CompuServe.COM>
>To: Fight Censorship <FIGHT-CENSORSHIP@vorlon.mit.edu>
>Subject: France implements Net-censorship charter 
>Message-Id: <970320024339_100736.3602_EHV43-1@CompuServe.COM>

To follow up on an earlier post regarding a French government-sponsored
committee drafting self-regulatory guidelines for the Internet, I have some bad

The voluntary guidelines are pretty much a mandate for legitimized censorship.
The participants of the committee don't seem to be hoodwinked at all -- many
hate the policy. But it is uncertain whether the opposition will be capable of
thwarting its initial implementation, set for mid-April.

The charter is available online, in French, at: www.planete.net/code-internet 
A joint press release by two opponents of the charter, also in French, is at:
www.citadeleff.org (or) www.aui.fr

The charter calls for a standing committee to be formed from the French Internet
community to monitor adherence to the "self-regulations" -- of which one plank
requires ISPs to block access to sites that are deemed "illicit." Sites located
outside the country that violate the charter will also be blocked. If ISPs
don't, I'm told by the chairman of the committee, Antoine Beaussant, they risk
criminal penalties. 

Mr. Beaussant said that a host of French ISPs as well as US online services
operating in the country have agreed to go along with the charter. Personally,
I'm suspicious of that claim, but haven't yet contacted the companies myself. 

An influential French senator working on cyber issues told me that he supports
the plan, noting that the policy only makes illegal online that which is already
illegal offline (e.g. child pornography, illegal drug e-commerce, etc.). The
charter also treats all users as publishers themselves, since the Internet is a
medium that allows for this easily. So an implication of the policy is the
US-worded "chilling effect" on speech, or so it seems -- which of course is moot
in the country.

Many French organizations have criticized the charter, however they seem torn
over how to react. The conflict is the classic one for negotiations: Do you
leave the discussions in dissatisfaction to symbolically make a point, hope that
your refusal to continue generates a re-working of the plan or may free you from
being pulled into its orbit of adherence? Or do you diplomatically recognize the
work, reject it, but continue to remain a part of the detested committee in
hopes you can influence it to create a better document?

Of the organizations denouncing the plan, for various reasons and in varying
degrees, is CITADEL-Electronic Frontiers France, the Association of Internet
Users, Internet Society France, and the French Association of Internet
Professionals. I have been told that an association of online publishers
supports the plan, but this is not confirmed.

It is too early to say whether the charter will remain, or what the implications
of it are in the country. Yet internationally, other than being used as a symbol
by governments hoping to create similar policies, the fallout might be small.
Indeed, France has an awful reputation in many fora as the country that has to
do everything independently, differently, and then force it on all the rest.
Other European countries may balk. 

But then again, Belgium supported France's request last fall that the OECD
examine online content issues, Germany is drafting censor-legislation, and the
US government may look to an "Internet community-based" solution if the CDA, or
aspects of it, is struck down by the Supreme Court.

Ultimately, I see no paradox that the country with a heritage of liberty wishes
to censor the Internet. Modern-day France is in some respects a
"Singapore-on-the-Seine," and the Frenchman has often accepted giving up certain
rights for other values. For instance, police have the right to demand a
person's identification regardless of having cause. In a country where terrorism
is growing, Parisian Metro riders might actually welcome this. So too the Net, a
majority of citizens may be willing to defer to the government-organized
"self-regulatory" committee to set rules for what they can access -- or simply
complain about the rules they are unable to change due to a headstrong

Keep in mind that Voltaire, the "Declan McCullagh" of his day, scrambled to

-- Kenneth Neil Cukier

(These views are personal. The analysis does not interfere with my capacity for
balanced reporting of events.)

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