Monday, March 26, 2012


French President Nicolas Sarkozy last week decided to respond to the terror killings in France by a racist Islamic fundamentalist by going after  people on the internet who dare to look at the wrong web sites or blogs.  If,  I guess he or one of his henchmen, decide a site is "extremist" and you look at it, well, you could be in big trouble.

Ars Technia web site reports:

Lucie Morillon of the watchdog group Reporters Without Borders ... that what  particularly is worrying about the proposed law is that the French government would not be able to tell precisely who is looking at a site unless total surveillance of Internet traffic was adopted by France.

The Daily Beast backs up the point made by Morillon above:

...such surveillance also would necessitate a new, menacing bureaucracy, its basic purpose to monitor Internet communications. Presumably, major carriers such as Google, You Tube and Facebook would be compelled to collaborate with that new effort.

What this is reminiscent of is how the US of A utilized the September 11th terror attacks to ratchet up oppressive laws that go far beyond terrorism.  States around the world are more than happy to use a terror attack to make more "secure" the security state.

 Under current French laws those who post hate speech on line can be charged with a criminal act.  Personally, I have little trouble making hate speech a crime.  However, I also do not claim some objective view.  It is clear to anyone familiar with SCISSION just what I would regard as hate speech. What Mr. Sarkozy regards as hate speech is likely to be a little different.  However, forget that "civil liberties" argument for now (we can argue about this some other time).  

What I would not do is criminalize looking at a site with hate speech terrorist connections.  If I did, I would be criminalizing myself.  I look at such sites to monitor what such folks are up to and to report and organize against them. Lots of others do so for the same reason.  Others still look just out of curiosity.  A few, I am sure, actually use such sites for nefarious purposes.  Mr. Sarkozy would, I guess, arrest all of us if he could.

The other point here is that while there is lots of attention on this one issue, Sarkozy and all the rest of those like him around the world are implementing a hell of a lot more "laws" to "protect" us all.  Most of those "laws" go unnoticed.

It's a scary world out more ways than one.

The following is from  Dissident Voice.

Punishing Curiosity: Nicolas Sarkozy and Criminal Visitations

Collaring readers for ‘visiting’ internet sets?  Jailing them for perusing matter accessible through the all pervasive world wide web, where curiosity abounds and internet sites are stumbled across and sampled like novelty gift items?  This is the latest desperate law and order thrust of the struggling French President Nicolas Sarkozy.  With a month to go to the French elections, a good bit of demagoguery is being resorted to.

The lethal handiwork of 23-year-old Mohamed Merah, the Algerian man wanted for the a spate of killings – the deaths of three French paratroopers, three Jewish school children and a rabbi – has propelled the President into a rather extremist, not to mention suspicious, frame of mind. ‘Anyone who regularly consults internet sites which promote terror or hatred or violence will be sentenced to prison.’ For Sarkozy, the internet must be a dark enclave of consultation and plotting, a breeding ground of permanent subversion.  When a person searches out particular sites, suspicion should arise.  Reading the anarchist cook books list of deadly recipes is bound to turn the visitor into a mad bomb throwing deviant.  ‘Don’t tell me it’s not possible.  What is possible for paedophiles should be possible for trainee terrorists and their supporters, too.’

One glaring problem in this line taken by Sarkozy lies in the field of policy itself.  The law becomes the famously touted ass largely through application and definition.  A policy can produce invidious outcomes because of unclear meanings or nebulous terms.  Defining which sites are the arbiters of ‘extremist’ matter is the first priority of authorities.   (Read: any group or subject they don’t like.)  As it is also their deemed prerogative, a good deal of arbitrariness can be thrown in as to what is dangerous and what isn’t; what corrupts and what purifies.  One person’s extremist disposition is another’s mild mannered teddy bear.  After all, the Muppet show has been deemed by such wise men as Fox’s Eric Bolling to be a communist enterprise, while the insipid, child oriented Happy Feet 2 has been dubbed ‘Kiddie Karl Marx’ (Guardian, Dec 6, 2011). Such idiocy is charming, until it turns into the dull, half-witted language of legislation.

Presumably, a regular visitor to opera sites falls foul of the Sarkozy triad – there is very little in that genre that lacks hatred, violence of terror.  High society types awaiting time in the nick because they decided to go through booking online tickets for Tosca.  The cupboard of cultural artefacts would be somewhat threadbare without those not so secret herbs and spices.  The same goes for publications, political promotions and policies.

The focus on layering the internet with a surveillance system in recent years has become more intense.  It has become the medium for recruitment, an easy means of access to nab followers for every single ideology or inclination in current circulation.  A UK parliamentary report by the Home Affairs Committee (January 31, 2012) examining online radicalisation described the effects of what ‘Sheikh Google’ might do in converting and recruiting young men and women.  That committee, however, shied away from a heavy handed approach to those who did dabble on the search engine.

The extremist nonsense Sarkozy is peddling demonstrates a false focus, though the rationale is already part of French law, given the punitive regime of anti-paedophilia rules that involve heavy penalties for regular visitors to prohibited web sites.  The site is less relevant than the visitor.  Curiosity will be criminalised.  A click renders you liable; several clicks, certified.  Lucie Morillon of Reporters Without Borders is rightly asking the question whether Sarkozy intends installing ‘a global internet surveillance system in France’ (Morning Star Online, March 23). In what must have been the understatement of the week, she also observed that, ‘Trying to criminalise a visit – a simple visit – to a Web site, that’s something that seems disproportionate.’

Perhaps more free speech, rather than less, would be a better solution, enabling members to counteract the agents of terrorism with more conviction. For Sarkozy, the heavy stick of law enforcement is proving far more attractive.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. He can be reached at Read other articles by Binoy.

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