Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Has Sarkozy declared war on French Blogs?

And to think: Sarkozy was supposed to be the **centrist** candidate in France's presidential election!

From yahoo news we can read about the upcoming attempt to regulate who can and who cannot convey information over the internet in France:

The French Constitutional Council has approved a law that criminalizes the filming or broadcasting of acts of violence by people other than professional journalists. The law could lead to the imprisonment of eyewitnesses who film acts of police violence, or operators of Web sites publishing the images, one French civil liberties group warned on Tuesday.

The council chose an unfortunate anniversary to publish its decision approving the law, which came exactly 16 years after Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King were filmed by amateur videographer George Holliday on the night of March 3, 1991. The officers’ acquittal at the end on April 29, 1992 sparked riots in Los Angeles.
If Holliday were to film a similar scene of violence in France today, he could end up in prison as a result of the new law, said Pascal Cohet, a spokesman for French online civil liberties group Odebi. And anyone publishing such images could face up to five years in prison and a fine of 75,000 Euros (US$98,537), potentially a harsher sentence than that for committing the violent act.

Senators and members of the National Assembly had asked the council to rule on the constitutionality of six articles of the Law relating to the prevention of delinquency. The articles dealt with information sharing by social workers, and reduced sentences for minors. The council recommended one minor change, to reconcile conflicting amendments voted in parliament. The law, proposed by Minister of the Interior Nicolas Sarkozy, is intended to clamp down on a wide range of public order offenses. ...

The broad drafting of the law so as to criminalize the activities of citizen journalists unrelated to the perpetrators of violent acts is no accident, but rather a deliberate decision by the authorities, said Cohet. He is concerned that the law, and others still being debated, will lead to the creation of a parallel judicial system controlling the publication of information on the Internet.

The government has also proposed a certification system for Web sites, blog hosters, mobile-phone operators and Internet service providers, identifying them as government-approved sources of information if they adhere to certain rules. The journalists’ organization Reporters Without Borders, which campaigns for a free press, has warned that such a system could lead to excessive self censorship as organizations worried about losing their certification suppress certain stories.

Odebi, the French internet watchdog group mentioned in the Yahoo news story, has further details at their French website [my translation]:

The Constitutional Council has validated the Sarkozy Law on delinquency this past Saturday, March 3.

This law comprises an article prohibiting, with up to five years in prison and outside of any link with the perpetrators of the violence, the distribution of videos displaying this violence – as for instance police violence – over the internet by any citizen who would not be a professional journalist. This makes of France the western nation most detrimental to freedom of expression and information, particularly over the internet.

The League denounces the almost total absence of any clear and exhaustive information by the mainstream media, which have descended upon this article and presented it to the public as permitting a fight against “happy slapping”.

The League states that even the Forum of Internet Rights failed in its mission to inform the public, by not explaining to internet users the real significance of this text, and from this fact the League demands the resignation of its President, for having brought about the un-credibilization of the only authority on co-regulation of the net that could have initially been conceptually acceptable.

This text, with its extremely serious infringement upon freedom of expression and information as well as citizen journalism over the internet, was put in place the moment that the government tried to impose by decree a commission of professional ethics for the internet, and a labeling of information sites, which comes evidently to complete that which can only seem to be a coordinated plan to control the distribution of information over the internet.

For the League Odebi, this anti-democratic law is fundamentally not respectable. It reveals either the ignorance of its authors, or their drive to soon install a security regime without precedent in the west: videos would be seen outside of France in any event, and only filtering them at the borders would keep them from being seen in France. As well, the identification of [video] uploaders will necessitate the installation of a totalitarian surveillance of the internet.
Therefore one conclusion: either this law will not be respected, or it will have to be imposed by authoritarian methods that democracies cannot use.

The League therefore calls upon all internet users who count upon their liberty of expression and information to draw from this all the consequences as of the “premier tour” in the presidential election.
(HT to Tiberge's watchful eye at GalliaWatch for this story)


truepeers said...

It's scary to think how lost to reality French leadership must be to consider such a law - lost in the control fantasies of the mid-20th century (fantasies even then but no less dangerous for that). When one reads: "The government has also proposed a certification system for Web sites, blog hosters, mobile-phone operators and Internet service providers, identifying them as government-approved sources of information if they adhere to certain rules." does one laugh or cry? Surely they realize that this would be a way of insuring people know what web sites not to waste time reading.

This, of course, is hardly the only fantasy among the French elites that they control reality and journalism, as we saw in the Mohammed al-Durah affair".

I guess our French friends will have to send Charles their videos to post. Pure Sarkosis.

tiberge said...

@ charles

I'm glad your comment feature is working. I was about to send an e-mail telling you I couldn't leave comments because the word verification was down.

Yes, this story is frightening. Odebi has issued many statements and there have been many articles written over the last year on the desire of the French State to control the Internet, especially the free-thinking Internet, i.e. blogs. If I didn't publish any articles on this topic, it was because it was all very complicated and technical, and I didn't fully understand - especially with regard to rights to download texts and music.

The French State always finds a convenient excuse for what it does - like protecting victims of crime from being filmed, etc... But everyone knows that France is police state, and with Sarko in Elysée palace, it will be a highly policed state.

I love Truepeers' term "Sarkosis".

Charles Henry said...

This decision echoes the mentality behind the "solution" proposed by the French police unions, in regards to banlieus "youths" torching cars: regulate the sale of all flammable liquids! (remember that..?)

Last year Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit (I think it was him) suggested that there was more freedom of speech in Iran than in France; this story makes his pronouncement that much less hyperbole...

tiberge said...

A charles

In a more chaotic situation like Iran sometimes there is more freedom of speech than in a so-called Western democracy. Also, Muslims have more important things to worry about - like infiltrating, conquering, Friday prayer, reproducing children, etc...They may not care about every word that comes out of the mouth of a blogger.

But the terrified ones - the French State, the news anchors, unions, etc...they are so paralyzed by fear that they will persecute anyone they feel is doing the "wrong thing".

Remember "The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming!" - everyone was terrified of the Russians, who had no idea why everyone was terrified.

At Galliawatch, under this post, Zazie has left an interesting comment. She points out that the rage they feel at being disobeyed i.e. that people use the web instead of the TV, is what drives them into dictatorial measures.

dag said...

i've left a longish post above. Please feel free to repostion it, given that this post is most interesting and relevant.

dag said...

I moved it.