Paris conference seeks to curb racism on internet

16th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 16 (AFP) - The Internet's role in fuelling a worrying surge of racism across Europe was examined at an international conference in Paris on Wednesday, with delegates seeking a solution balancing state regulation and freedom of expression.

PARIS, June 16 (AFP) - The Internet's role in fuelling a worrying surge of racism across Europe was examined at an international conference in Paris on Wednesday, with delegates seeking a solution balancing state regulation and freedom of expression.

The two-day meeting organised by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe gathered representatives from 55 countries, key Internet companies and non-governmental organisations.

OSCE chief Solomon Passy, who is also Bulgaria's foreign minister, summed up the problem by saying: "We must not limit the freedom of expression. We must not overegulate. But we must not let the door opened to the abuses. Freedom does not mean an unrestricted right to spread hatred."

Delegates hope to find ways to track down the authors of racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic material on the web without reining in online freedoms.

The debate was likely to show up differences between the position of US authorities, keen to see self-regulation play the key role, and European officials who believe governments and international law should take charge.

"In France, we believe there is a clear relationship between racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic propoganda on one side, and hate crime on the other," French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said, opening the conference with a warning that intolerance was rising across Europe.

"It is not freedom of expression that is threatened (by legislation) but the incitation to violent acts," he said.

France and other European countries have strong laws against expressions of racism.

That legislation has been backed up by several judgements in the past, including one against Yahoo! in 2000 for selling Nazi memorabilia online. The ex-president of Yahoo!, Timothy Koogle, was brought to court but acquitted in 2003, though an appeal is due later this year.

Dan Bryant, a senior advisor to US Attorney General John Ashcroft, told the conference that "governmental efforts to regulate speeches are fundamentally mistaken".

"The Internet is not the enemy of liberty, tolerance and dignity... unfortunately, some see internet as a threat to be feared," he said.

"We are appalled by some of the speeches on the Internet (but) the United States resolutely opposes attempts to suppress or limit the right of expression. The government of the United States may not restrict a speech because of its ideas, or merely because it disapproves its views."

As an example of self-regulation, the US version of the Google search engine (www.google.com) includes a disclaimer for results produced by a keyword search for "Jew" - and points users to the website of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League.

But one French newspaper, France Soir, highlighted the inability of the industry to identify or stop racist threats.

It recalled an attempted assassination on President Jacques Chirac in July 2002 by a man, Maxime Brunerie, who boasted about his planned exploit on a neo-Nazi website.

But that site, like most others, are hosted outside of France, some of them in Scandinavian countries or in Britain, where legal restrictions are not so tight.

"Between 60 and 100 French websites are identified as violently anti-Arab, neo-Nazi or Islamist. Most are hosted abroad," it quoted a researcher at the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, Marc Knobel, as saying.

The extremists used the sites and e-mails, he said, to keep a step ahead of law enforcers in their countries.

© AFP

Subject: French news

 

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