The Council of State Monitors the Internet
In previous posts, two major "Big Brother" agencies, MRAP and MOSAIC, were discussed. MRAP recently issued its report on Internet sites, MOSAIC was recently created as a trick (my opinion only) to fool the credulous into believing Islam can be "laïque". (How can the Islam of France be "laïque", when France herself isn't laïque, having already violated the sacrosanct 1905 law at least 2000 times to build mosques?)
Now, at François Desouche comes word of still another, more serious, more concerted, effort to ban from the Internet those websites deemed by public moralists to be "racist". Again I will try to simplify a complicated story:
Following a January 2009 meeting of the Inter-ministerial Committee on Racism and Anti-Semitism, Prime Minister François Fillon decided to assign to Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, Counselor of State, and President of the Forum on Internet Rights, a mission on the means with which a combat against the spread of racist and anti-Semitic content on the Internet can be waged.
Note: A Counselor of State is a member of the Council of State (Conseil d'Etat), that advises the government (i.e., the ministers) in the preparation of laws and decrees. It also acts as the supreme administrative judge in litigation involving the administration, (i.e., the entire governmental apparatus). Therefore, it combines something of our Supreme Court in its capacity as the final appeals court, something of our presidential advisers, something of our Federal court system, and something of our "special prosecutors" who investigate wrong-doing of the government. The Conseil d'Etat also manages the administrative courts, i.e., those courts that try cases involving government officials. In a word, it is the supreme judge of the government itself. The Conseil d'Etat consists of 300 members, 200 of whom sit at the Palais-Royal in Paris, and 390 agents.
French readers interested in the basic structure of the Conseil d'Etat can consult the official website, which has an English version as well. Click the language you want in the upper left corner. The whole topic is fascinating and worthy of close study.
The origins go back to the monarchy. Below, a painting of Louis XIV surrounded by his counselors of State.
Excuse the digression, but it is helpful to know who Madame Falque-Pierrotin is and what her powers are. It seems they are considerable. But is the government bound to follow her advice? Will this issue of racism on the Internet actually be judged by the whole Conseil d'Etat at some point in the future? Here is one short passage from the English version of the site:
(...) Although the opinions of the Council of State are not binding in theory, they are to a large extent followed by the Government in practice.
Now back to the original post:
The report entitled "fight against racism on the Internet" was turned over to the Prime Minister on January 21, 2010.
Note: A great example of punctuality: January 21 is the date of the execution of Louis XVI. According to Wikipedia, it is also Mme Falque-Pierrotin's birthday!
The report attests to the expression of racist commentary on the Internet and suggests a plan of action at the national and international levels, mobilizing public authorities, Internet operators and associations.
Note: Associations are special-interest groups, in this case most likely ideologically left-wing. Would traditional Catholic or monarchical or identitarian associations be mobilized in the "fight against racism"?
Four contrasting observations emerge from the report: 1) the existence of racist content on the Internet and a real difficulty in qualifying them; 2) the risk of seeing the everyday expression of racism become commonplace online; 3) a French arsenal of repression that is complete but inadequately mobilized on the Internet; 4) vigilance by the participants and heterogeneity of their actions (meaning that there will be various methods employed to deal with "racist" commentary).
Based on these observations, the report advises the implementation of a collective plan of action.
Here, I switch to another website, Forum Internet, that summarizes the 64-page report available in pdf format at François Desouche, linked above. The full report is also linked at Forum Internet. Here are excerpts from that summary.
(...) the report recommends an increased action from the Central Office that deals with the fight against crime in the Information Technology and Communications sectors (OCLCTIC), an organism that gathers data on illicit content online. It also recommends an improved system of information among public authorities; and a systematization of the sharing of information between the various parties.
The report recommends that the current methods of repression be unified, that the duration of a ban relevant to racist crimes be maintained at one year, and that the associations be given the right to respond to the racist content online.
The report brings out the need to develop a penal policy adapted to the specifics of the Internet. To do this, it proposes sensitizing anti-discrimination agencies ("pôles") to the specific problems connected to the Internet, improving the mobilization of prosecutors ("parquets") with regard to the repression of acts of everyday racism ("racism ordinaire"), and making better known the convictions connected to racism on the Internet.
In view of the primordial importance of both Internet operators and the associations, several proposals are offered: improve the action of the associations, the visibility of the detection procedures, the exchange of information between the OCLCTIC and the technical intermediaries on the issue of detection, and a pedagogical kit for Internet moderators...
Note: The above is quite opaque. It seems to boil down to an improved method of detecting those web moderators who don't comply with the new dictates. This includes more power to the associations, some of which, like HALDE (which is not really an association, but a government agency), are already close to having police powers. A pedagogical kit would mean something like a booklet of instructions, such as the ones employers in the U.S. get on affirmative action, etc...
Another proposal involves an increased awareness on the part of the general public, the school-age population and families, regarding the illicitness of racist expression, by means of information campaigns and specific sensitizing efforts.
Now we get to the good part - the role of foreign countries, including the United States.
It is surprising to note that the international dimensions of the Internet and the different laws and cultures on the question of racism are used by some to escape their responsibilities.
Note: the French report is, in a way, comparing those French bloggers who are hosted in foreign countries, to those wealthy persons who move out of France to foreign countries where the taxes are lower. I wonder if this can be legally justified? Money is not involved here, only ideas. If it is upheld by the courts, it would definitively criminalize both speech and ideas, EVEN when expressed in a foreign country!
In terms of police cooperation and the elaboration of a European policy on detection, it is desirable that the differences in attitudes ("sensibilités") within the European Union, on the gravity of certain racist acts, be reduced (...)
In particular, the report regrets the small number of signatories of the 2001 agreement on cyber-criminality and recommends a diplomatic action directed at certain member States of the European Union and the United States of America as well.
Having noted the need to develop an international plan of voluntary measures by enterprises, the proponents of the report urge the French and American public authorities to work out a good-conduct code common to the technical intermediaries (I assume this refers to Internet providers and web administrators, but I'm not sure), and to allow for the participation of national and international NGO's involved in the fight against racism on the Internet.
It is recommended that within eighteen months the public authorities order a new report on the phenomenon of Internet racism to verify the progress made through the implementation of the proposals of the current report.
Note: There will no doubt be more on this latest government effort. See future posts. Barack Obama has said he wants to maintain Internet neutrality. As of now, that is all I know regarding his views.
Final note: The report overtly cites François Desouche (hosted in the U.S.). The readers there are in an uproar over this. But the U.S. has to comply with the French demands. Since Obama is in office, it's hard to say how things will go. The Republicans were often accused of censoring the Internet, but it was more an issue of national security, not racism. Democrats are anti-racists, but they claim also to favor Internet neutrality. Will they be "neutral" in this case, or will they be "neutralizers"?