Originally created 05/24/00

Critics say French Internet bill will trigger exodus



PARIS (AP) - It's called the Liberty of Communication Act, but critics say the French government-sponsored legislation would instead encourage the Internet's first mass emigration.

By requiring that people who publish on the Internet to register with authorities, the bill could push French people to use Internet companies in other nations, opponents said.

The legislation, passed by the House and being debated in the Senate this week, would apply to anyone hosting a Web page viewable by the public. It is apparently without precedent in Europe and the United States.

The bill arose in response to last year's case of a nude photo of model Estelle Halliday being posted on a free Web site without her permission. The bill seeks to make individuals legally liable for what they publish on Web sites. Currently, liability falls on Internet Web hosting companies, which provide users with space on networked computer servers.

While the French legislation would make it easy to track down cybercriminals, its principle aim is to eradicate anonymity in Web page publishing, said Philippe Chantepie, a technical adviser for the French Culture Ministry.

"In a newspaper you can see the who the publisher is, the editor is," Chantepie said. "When you publish something, you're participating in the public space," and there is a public responsibility to identify yourself, he said.

Libertysurf.com, France's largest free Web hosting company, said the measure would cripple its business with additional maintenance costs. It also said users would avoid the law by finding other servers where registering personal information was not required.

The European Internet Service Providers Association knew of no similar legislation on the continent. Spokesman Joe McNamee said the industry group hadn't taken a position on the bill, but also hadn't been consulted and considered the measure flawed.

"We don't know where it begins and where it ends, we don't know how it will be enforced, and we don't know who will be liable for information that isn't correct," McNamee said.

Technically, experts said, it's very simply for users to lie about themselves while registering. Only through log files that record the unique Internet addresses of computers on the Net can users be traced. Sophisticated users, or hackers, can even mask their origin.

Internet service providers also said the bill's wording was vague by not specifying whether "publishing" on the Internet included postings to newsgroups or chat areas, which are separate from the World Wide Web.

Chantepie said the law would apply only to Web pages.