Ten Million Francs for an Internet Forum

PARIS (07/07/2000) - When Christian Paul, representative for the central Nievre region in France, recently sent a government report on the Internet to Prime Minister Lionel Jospin he clearly stated that France needed to create a forum on Internet rights. A place of creativity, commerce and power, the Internet is the most important infrastructure in emerging technologies.

Even if the basis of our legal system is applicable to all online activities, issues such as intellectual property, freedom of speech and the responsibility of middlemen are constantly defying the actual application of current law.

Because the state has oversight of the law, it must engage in the debate. The "Law and Freedoms on the Internet report," compiled by the government, was supposed to answer lingering questions. What is the state of current regulation? Does it make sense? How should it be organized? The answer: with dialogue.

"This forum, far from being a new source of laws or a super cop with self-proclaimed legitimacy, should be a method of co-regulation, a midpoint for self-regulation and government regulation to meet, a space for dialogue and cooperation among the actors in the regulatory process," said Paul.

In the form of an association, the Forum would receive a total budget of 8 million to 10 million francs (US$1.15 to $1.44 million) and specific rules of operation and composition, but the mission statement is very defined. The report only mentions some directions the Forum may take: gather public and private players, stir debate, give recommendations, and create a site to allow a dialogue among individuals to attempt to clarify the French position on issues for international negotiations.

Even though it benefits from the government's seal of approval, many fear that the Forum will have no real power and will never be able to generate a real point of view. It has been received with much criticism by the supporters of self-regulation who have already renamed it "cybermachine." But the forum would at least serve the purpose of better defining the roles of the three communications regulatory authorities, the telecom regulatory body ART (Autorité de Régulation des Télécommunications), the privacy rights commission CNIL (Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés) and the multimedia council CSA (Conseil Supérieur de l'Audiovisuel), which already consider themselves to be Internet regulators.

Because it would be able to gather all the elements of the debate between companies, users associations, the European Commission, and the French Parliament, this forum could avoid a repetition of the fiasco created by the law regulating responsibilities of service providers that host Web content, when next year new laws on the information society will be on the table.

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