Sarkozy: ‘Regulate’ not ‘Restrain’ the Internet

Despite plunging popularity in the polls President Nicolas Sarkozy seems determined to pursue an increasingly authoritarian line on Internet regulation.

Opponents fear France’s clampdown is the thin edge of the wedge

The President now presiding over the G8 group of the world’s most powerful economies, has scheduled a special sideshow, the ‘G8 du Web’ to be held in Deauville on May 26-27 to deal with the Internet.

Agence France Presse reports that the president has invited the global ICT giants Google, Facebook and Twitter to his Deauville summit for what will apparently be more than just a fireside chat.

France, beating a drum for ‘regulation’ rather than ‘restraint’, has led worrying efforts by a number of governments to grab more control over the Internet.

Of particular current concern is the French HADOPI law (see our report here) , which Paris insists is a way of stamping on copyright infringement.

During a visit to the Vatican in October 2010, Nicolas Sarkozy said: “Regulating the Internet to correct the excesses and abuses arising from a total absence of rules, is a moral imperative!” Not unexpectedly his opponents were quick to seize on that last phrase, as a sign of a totalitarian bent, something the l’Elysée emphatically rebuts.

Chris Williams writing in The Register reports that President Sarkozy aims to ensure his G8 counterparts take a hard look at Internet and World Wide Web regulation, and focus on issues such as: “How should we regulate the Internet, how should we respond to the problem of terrorism, of paedophilia, and subjects such as the right to be forgotten?”

However the G8 du Web could set Sarkozy on a collision course with intellectual property and digital freedom groups in the United States.

According to a March 4 report from Access, a civil society group that defends digital freedom, information compiled from different sources, such as the Open Net Initiative, Reporters Without Borders, and Freedom House found that 28% of all countries engage in some Internet filtering, according to Open Net Initiative, 57% of countries are rated “not free” or “partly free” by Freedom House, and 17% are”enemies of the Internet,” according to Reporters Without Borders.

The US mission to the UN hosted a panel discussion in Geneva March 4 with representatives of Google, Facebook and Access. The panel discussed Internet freedom and how to promote human rights in the digital age.

This was a direct response to the Egyptian government’s blocking of Internet services for 5 days in February in an attempt to thwart the overthrow of the Mubarak regime, a move which, incidentally the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) estimated was likely to have cost the country USD 90 million

Separately when asked for his reaction to the Egyptian blockade, Peter Barron, Google’s director of communications and public affairs for Northern Europe, said it was not technology that caused the revolution, “it was the people’. Google he added favours freedom of expression. What then, your average concerned Internet user might just ask, will he and his colleagues say to Mr Sarkozy at Deauville?

According to Le Monde, both US and Russian presidents, Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev, back the Sarkozy initiative — government intrusions into citizens privacy being nothing new of course. In 2002, according to ZDNET, G8 justice and interior ministers meeting in Canada, discussed the retention of telecom operators’ logs, despite trenchant opposition at the time from the European Parliament. In those days Nicolas Sarkozy was interior minister in the Raffarin government.

Frédéric Lefebre a deputy for Hauts-de-Seine and spokesman for the ruling UMP is reported to be the man driving Sarkozy’s current crusade against the web.

In this recent TV discussion (above) he said: “Untamed liberalism is not good, I think we all agree. Today there are 10 million users of the Internet in France (its power and influence are far reaching) and while I believe there should be total liberty of expression on the Internet this should not be confused with total liberty of exploitation.”

Here he tells colleagues in the National Assembly that the “mafia has taken over the Internet”:

Story: Ken Pottinger

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One Response to Sarkozy: ‘Regulate’ not ‘Restrain’ the Internet

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