France joins censorship crusade

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 May, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 May, 1996, 12:00am

It was late last month that the Internet community witnessed yet another government attempt to outline a method for controlling use of the Internet.

This time around, it was France's turn to speak up on the issue. This is not new. The past few months have seen regulations being proposed or discussed in countries such as Singapore, Germany and China.

These countries have even taken action, with Germany closing down newsgroups on CompuServe, and Singapore searching for pornographic material in people's private accounts.

France has come out now and joined the group of concerned governments. But unlike previous attempts at controlling the Net, which have been fundamentally national in character, France is one of the first governments to recognise that there is nothing effective it can do on its own.

The country's Telecommunications Minister has called on the European Union to develop a code of Internet conduct with specific provision to protect minors and consumers. Ultimately, it seems France wants some type of global agreement to regulate use of the Net, primarily because the Government there sees the Net as posing a risk to public order.

It would seem that France may in fact be excessively paranoid about the destructive potential of the Internet since all it is doing is providing a new medium for the same sort of problems society has witnessed for a long time. There is not much in the way of new threats to social order on the Internet.

Still, France should be commended for recognising that the Net can be reined in from some of its seedier extremes only if there is a concerted and collective global effort by governments rather than piecemeal national undertakings that are negated by activities in neighbouring countries.

Whether the French proposals make any impact on other countries - France plans to bring up the ideas at a Group of Seven (G7) meeting - remains to be seen. If they are rejected, it will at least be by those same countries that must together make the decision to impose regulation on the Internet if governments want to succeed in regulatory efforts.

Of course, the question of whether the Net should be regulated at all is another issue and one that is likely to be hotly debated before any proposal such as France's would be universally adopted. After all, it is not clear that regulating the Internet will do anything to eliminate the spread of pornography, fraud and other problems that Internet regulation is supposed to control.

These issues reflect deeper rooted problems and the Internet is not their cause. Still these problems are not limited to any single country and France's proposals acknowledge this.

Another important development took place when the United States FCC took a step towards opening a portion of the public airwaves for free wireless transmission of e-mail, faxes and computer data.

Although designed for short-range transmissions of up to 11 kilometres, a maximum of 25 megabits of data can be moved through these frequencies per second opening up whole new possibilities for truly wireless connection to the Internet.