French seek mandatory registration for Net publishing

Want to publish on the Web in France? If a new French law passes, you'd have to register with the government first. Could the rest of the EU be next?

Web users in France who want to publish online will have to register their intent with the government, if a bill being considered by French Parliament this week is passed.

The Liberty of Communication Act -- passed by the House Tuesday and being debated in the French Senate this week -- stipulates that users will have to fill out an online registration form in order to post to the Internet.

Many have suggested the added complexity to users could force French Web hosting companies to relocate. Others have damned the Bill as a serious infringement to online freedom of speech and privacy that could spread across Europe. A spokesman from The European Internet Service Providers Association (EuroISPA) says that if passed, the French government could try to get the European Union to consider enforcing similar regulations Europe-wide.

Supporters of the bill say it is intended to make people legally liable for the material they post on the Internet. Opponents say the bill goes too far in removing personal privacy. "This is a terribly conventional approach," says British Internet legal expert Nicholas Bohm of civil liberties group, Cyber Rights and Cyber Liberties. "It comes from a government's long standing fear of freedom of speech."

Bohm adds: "This is an example of what happens if you don't talk to industry and don't have the required expertise to deal with these issues."

Robin Bynoe, partner with law firm Charles Russell, says that the bill, ironically, is in keeping with European directives. "The basic approach [of the EC] is that the intermediary existing [ISP] is not liable for content posted. It is the responsibility of the individual." He adds however that, "those who want, will be able to circumvent French laws to post scurrilous material."

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