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France13 April 2004

Economy minister urged to intervene in Digital Economy bill
Bill passed by senate would make Internet hosts responsible for censoring content

Reporters Without Borders, the Union of Judges and the Odebi League are asking the minister of economy, finance and industry, Nicolas Sarkozy, to intervene in the Bill to Promote Confidence in the Digital Economy (known as the LEN). In a 9 April letter, they have requested a meeting with Sarkozy or the deputy minister for industry, Patrick Devedjian, to explain their concerns and recommendations about the bill.

The letter says:

"We recognise that the version passed by the senate was amended in a way that is better for individual freedoms. The principle of generalised monitoring by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), which was contrary to European Union directive 2000/31, has been dropped. However, the main problem posed by this bill is unchanged. It makes Internet hosts responsible for censoring web content in the absence of any judicial role.

"The main argument offered by legislators in defence of this measure is to say that France has no choice but to comply with the June 2000 European Union directive on electronic commerce, which says ISPs should regulate online content. But we draw your attention to the fact that other European countries have refused to turn Internet hosts into online judges, although they had to translate the same directive into national law.

"Italy and Spain instead opted to give a ’competent body’ the power to adjudicate on the legality of content. In Belgium, this responsibility had been assigned to the state prosecutor. These three countries realised the danger of creating a system of Internet self-censorship.

"So there is no inescapable obligation to do this. On the contrary, this measure is dangerous for the future of the Internet in France, and must be stopped. The LEN is a key law for our organisations and, in its present form, has been massively rejected by Internet users and all those who defend individual freedoms. We have unfortunately found until now that, while account has often been taken of private sector grievances, civil society has not been sufficiently involved and heeded during the debates about this bill.

"We therefore reiterate our request for a meeting with you to set out our specific recommendations for a solution to the crisis created by this bill."

The letter is signed by Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard, Union of Judges president Aïda Chouk and Odebi League spokesperson Pascal Cohet.

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