Now sites in France featuring recipes for building explosives, terrorist propaganda, racial invective and incitement to hatred and violence will soon join child pornography on the ‘blacklist” of Internet sites prohibited in France.
On a Valentine’s Day visit to France’s central crime-fighting offices in Nanterre, which have a “cyber crime” wing devoted to crimes related to communication and information technologies (OCLCTIC), Interior minister of France Michele Alliot-Marie announced the development of a best practices agreement with key internet operators to allow for the blocking and dismantling of these sites.
France will follow the example on Norway, where a similar scheme is being developed. France’s Interior Minister stipulated that the move was not meant to set up a “Big Brother” scenario which would limit freedom of expression in France. However, she did concede that with great freedom comes also “more threats to safety”.
Until now, suppliers of internet access in France balked at the idea of policing on the sites they host. Christian Aghroum, chief of the OCLCTIC said that in the beginning, the reaction of French ISP professionals was “no way”, but “their attitude has evolved,” he said. “Now we can work with them.”
Blocking the offending sites in France would mean that the pages would become inaccessible to internet surfers. The job is harder than just choosing which sites to block, however, as many of the offending web sites viewable in France are hosted not inside France but abroad, outside the jurisdiction of French authorities. Of 14,465 complaints in 2007 against questionable web sites by internet surfers (when police in France were cracking down on illegal child pornography web sites), only 308 related to sites hosted in France. 1,552 were hosted outside of France. (The remainder were repeated complaints against the same sites.) But even with heavy monitoring, prohibitions and fines, the sites in France did not disappear. “When they are closed, they are reconstituted the next following day under another domain name “, admitted Karine Beguin, of the monitoring of internet crime for the gendarmerie in France.
In the illegal internet gambling arena in France, fighting online crime has been an uphill battle for French authorities. Suppliers of internet access in France have so far refused to block any sites, so the police have hunted down offenders using their own advertising to try to stem the explosion of illegal online gambling in France. Police in France made some headway in March 2007, with the convictions of casino owner Patrick Partouche. He was given a sentence of twelve months of prison and a 40 000 euro fine for his connection to a poker site hosted in Gibraltar, but the battle against online gambling in France is far from over.
The government of France is promises new measures against all forms in internet crime in France. The first will be the doubling of the number of “cyber-investigators”. In September 2008, there will be systems in place for anyone in France to report many different types of online criminal activity, including all kinds of scams. And the rules for closing a web site in France will be streamlined, simplified and sped up. Until now, long legal procedures following exhaustive investigations were necessary to close a site in France. But from now on, explains François Jaspart, general of the national police force in France and superintendent of the fight again internet crime in France, intervention will be possible as soon as anyone as soon as there is any observation of possible illegal activity.
Also, with a relaxing of legal strictures, authorities in France will be able to pinpoint the geographic location of Internet users. Also, internet crimes will carry new and heftier penalties in France: identity theft over the Internet will soon make offenders in France liable to a year’s imprisonment and a fine of 15 000 euros. France intends to go further demand international agreements to allow France to obtain data remotely from servers in other countries, without it being necessary to first get permission from the country where the internet server is located.
The move has been coming for a while. In a meeting last October in Lisbon, European Union interior ministers, including Alliot-Marie of France, debated proposals to sanction or shut down Internet sites spreading “terrorist propaganda” and bomb-making instructions.
At the time, EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini urged the ministers to make punishable activities that misused the Internet, citing terrorism specifically. He exhorted the countries to introduce sanctions against those who disseminate terrorist propaganda or instruct on websites how to make a bomb. “This has nothing to do with freedom of expression,” he asserted.
That same month, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, long known for its Nazi-hunting roots but now fighting Islamic terrorism, released a report. The report concluded that radical Muslims and other extremists worldwide had mastered the use of the Internet as a tool for propaganda, organizing and education. The report elaborated, saying that websites were being used to stir young Muslims to violence, not only in the Middle East but also in Western countries, including France, and that they amount to a “virtual university of terror,” promoting the creation of “terror cells” all over the world.
Frattini said that existing EU legislation could not deal with the alarming and growing phenomenon. “We have to modernize the legal framework,” he said. “The world, unfortunately, is changing. Five years ago, there wasn’t a need to consider incitement, and now there is.”
The announcement February 14 suggests that Interior Minster of France Alliot-Marie took the EU Commissioner’s suggestions very much to heart. And while the task may be daunting to much of the EU, France certainly knows how to run an efficient crackdown on internet crime. That same month, October 2007, French police arrested more than 300 people accused of trading child pornography on the Internet during a nationwide crackdown on suspected pedophiles.
During a four-day operation French police and paramilitary gendarmes identified 310 people in France thought to be swapping pornographic images and videos of pre-teen children online, French police claimed.
More than 1,4 million photos and 27 000 videos were seized in France, and more than a dozen judicial enquiries opened, dubbed “Rainbow,” which made use of about 330 officers in 78 French departments.
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