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1We – all human beings – must be free and able to express ourselves, and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, regardless of frontiers.»
2We defend the internet and all other forms of communication against illegitimate encroachments by both public and private powers.»
3We require and create open, diverse media so we can make well-informed decisions and participate fully in political life.»
4We speak openly and with civility about all kinds of human difference.»
5We allow no taboos in the discussion and dissemination of knowledge.»
6We neither make threats of violence nor accept violent intimidation.»
7We respect the believer but not necessarily the content of the belief.»
8We are all entitled to a private life but should accept such scrutiny as is in the public interest.»
9We should be able to counter slurs on our reputations without stifling legitimate debate.»
10We must be free to challenge all limits to freedom of expression and information justified on such grounds as national security, public order, morality and the protection of intellectual property.»

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Home | Case studies | Punishing users of extremist websites

Punishing users of extremist websites

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed a law to punish readers of websites promoting terrorism and violence, writes Clementine de Montjoye.

To match feature FRANCE-ELECTION / INTERNET
France's Interior Minister and leader of the French ruling Conservative party UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) Nicolas Sarkozy votes on a computer at the party's headquarters in Paris in this January 11, 2006 file photo. Cyberspace is turning into a hotly contested arena in this year's French presidential elections, as candidates seek to harness the Internet's vast but volatile resources to give them a decisive edge. To match feature. (REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Files)

The case

On 15th March 2012, Mohammed Merah killed two soldiers of the French army and left a third in a coma. A few days later, on19th March, Merah attacked a Jewish school in Toulouse shooting at point blank range a teacher and three children. It emerged from the investigation that Merah had been consulting jihadist websites and had been to Pakistan twice, arousing suspicions in the DCRI, the French intelligence agency. On 22 March 2012, in the aftermath of the attacks, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced his intention of imposing stricter anti-terrorist measures. These included a proposed law condemning internet users who regularly visit websites promoting terrorism and violence. Inspired by the 2007 law aimed at regular users of child pornography websites, Sarkozy claimed that the criminilisation of this offence would allow quicker arrests of suspects without having to wait for tangible proof, and argued that had this law been implemented before, Merah might have been stopped earlier. Reporters Without Borders underlined the potential risks of such measures restricting free access to information and asked Sarkozy to be more specific about the methods that would be used to enforce this law.

Author opinion

There are several serious grounds for concern about this law. On a first level, this is clearly an attempt to increase surveillance of the internet, a widespread endeavour at the moment. These laws are the result of, and contribute to the government taking responsibility for the information its citizens can and cannot have access to, and betray a lack of trust in their judgment and in free speech. On a second level, this law has not been implemented through the traditional procedure. During an election period, parliament no longer sits, which means these measures were put into practice without delay. The upcoming election mean Sarkozy is eager to gain the far right’s vote, and is therefore more inclined to pass drastic measures that will appeal to their ideals. Finally, the fact that Merah’s Algerian origins were immediately highlighted despite his French nationality emphasises the growing fracture in French national identity, and an increasingly radical approach to terrorism that is often on the verge of violating common law.

- Clementine de Montjoye
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Published on: May 3, 2012 | 7 Comments

Comments (7)

Automated machine translations are provided by Google Translate. They should give you a rough idea of what the contributor has said, but cannot be relied on to give an accurate, nuanced translation. Please read them with this in mind.

  1. makingmeregistertospeakdoesntseemfree says:

    I find the notion of flagging content as unlawful or suspicious highly offensive. Even if the law defines explicitly what websites could be considered violent or terrorist activity it sends the message that the government is able to suppress or outlaw information and expressions it disagrees with. Today it could be a terrorist or pedophile website, in 20 years it could be anything.

  2. Dejan says:

    That’s right my friend but for me it’s strange to punish someone who is watching those websites… If you ask me, those sites should be shutted down!

  3. Durex says:

    Pozdrav,

    Ovako ima par stvari koje bih rekao u vezi ovog;

    I) Sa nekog mog gledalista na ovakve stvari, stvarno kaznjavati ljude koji posecuju ekstremiticke sajtove je malo suludo, jedan od razloga je zato sto pola ljudi ni ne shvataju gde ulaze ( jer koliko god mi mislili da je svaka osoba oko nas kompijuterski skolovana grdno se varamo, jer statistika govori drugacije) , a drugo je zato sto su ljudi koji znaju gde su usli radoznali, zele da znaju nesto vise o tome, i onda naravno udju na sajtove tog tipa

    II) Treba kaznjavati, zasto? pa to moze dati ideju nekim ljudima koji su patriote, i misle da treba da brane drzavu od (nepostojecih) neprijatelja, i to stvara velike probleme, jer takvih ljudi je sve vise.

    Zakljucak moj bi bio da ne treba kaznjavati te ljude sto posecuju, ali treba oformiti tim programera koji ce pratiti takve sajtove i odma ih rusiti!

    Srdacan pozdrav!

  4. Durex says:

    btw do I need to write on english? It seems google translate aint working atm or, it cant translate what I wrote? :s

  5. valeria.butera says:

    io credo che seppure limitando la privacy individuale sia una buona mossa, insomma perchè qualcuno dovrebbe guardare certi siti se non interessato? o comunque guardali frequentemente? credo che se per il bene collettivo si possa rinunciare a qualche libertà.

  6. AlAin says:

    It seems to me that Sarkozy’s proposal is too much of a drastic measure. I do understand that such a law could avoid future terrorists acts but it is also true that governments always have their own personal agendas other than doing whats for the greater good.
    but as mentioned above the government could simply shut down the sites that preach violence or terrorism.
    What we have to keep in mind when voting for or against these drastic laws is that they could always be counter productive, like the government having too much control and the very essence of ‘freedom of speech’ dissolving into thin air.
    Imagine the same situation in a religious society: Governments threatening to jail and punishing people for watching internet pornography. Wouldn’t that result in a public outcry although the religious people would celebrate such a law.
    In my personal opinion there are many other things that could be done other than punishing people for visiting websites. And other governments are actually taking very strict measures other than just tracking down our browser history.

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Free Speech Debate is a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Antony's College in the University of Oxford. www.freespeechdebate.ox.ac.uk