French kill anti-privacy law

'Liberty of Communications' Act would have forced all French Internet users to identify themselves, holding ISPs liable for inaccurate information

Civil liberty experts and Internet interest groups in France have scuppered a law that would have endangered online privacy for French citizens.

The "Liberty of Communications" Act was amended to remove aspects that would have abolished anonymity for anyone publishing content to the Web.

As originally worded, the act would have made Web content providers legally obliged to acquire the accurate identities of those posting to the Internet using their service. If information was inaccurate, both Internet service providers and users would have been held legally responsible.

Although the Act was passed in this form by parliament in France in May, it was effectively rescued by the country's Senate last week.

It had been fiercely opposed by civil libertarians and Internet interest groups in both France and internationally. One French Internet society held a petition against the draft proposals signed in France and elsewhere.

The amendments mean that ISPs are not legally required to confirm the identity of Web poster, just to get them to fill in an identification form -- something almost all French hosting firms do already. The act still does mean that ISPs now have to filter for illegal content held on their servers.

"It was rescued at the death," says a spokesman for the European Internet Service Providers' Association (EuroISPA). "Our French member is very happy that the law is simply reinforcing the status quo. The law is very close to current practices."

Director of British organisation Cyber-Rights and Cyber-Liberties Yaman Akdenis says that campaigners are responsible for the amendments. "I would congratulate the French lobby groups and NGOs," says Akdenis. "The current version is because of this pressure."

The act was originally designed to provide a strong deterrent to anyone wanting to publish illegal material online, but opponents said it posed a serious threat to personal liberties.

"This is a terribly conventional approach," British Internet legal expert Nicholas Bohm said when the law was proposed in May. "It comes from a government's long standing fear of freedom of speech."

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