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Internet Expert Criticises French Court Ruling

Internet Expert Criticises French Court Ruling On Internet Content

The French court decision ordering the American based Internet search engine Yahoo to block French web users from its auction sites which sell Nazi memorabilia is a real worry according to a New Zealand internet expert.

Elizabeth Longworth is an Auckland lawyer specialising in the legal implications of cyberspace technologies and information law. She has become involved in the international debate about the legal and ethical issues around the production and use of information on the net and has represented New Zealand at several UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) International Congresses on cyberspace issues. These Congresses are the only international forum that draws delegates from all the UN countries for the discussion of such issues.

Ms Longworth says that in France, it is illegal to sell or display anything that incites racism and the French case, which began earlier this year when two Paris based anti-racism groups sued Yahoo, is very interesting and has far-reaching implications.

“The ruling is a real worry because although it will limit the access of French people to Nazi paraphernalia (which I agree is material many of us would find obscene), it will also inhibit serious and legitimate research on the Nazis as all searches on the word Nazi will be blocked.”

Ms Longworth says the case also shows up how cyberspace architecture – that is the software, the networks, the search engines, the way things are set up – contain values and these values are those of the architecture designers, not the policy makers or the citizens they represent.

The French case shows how the values of freedom of access to information inherent in the Internet may be at odds with national policy. The kinds of tensions being thrown up by this case are, Ms Longworth says, only starting to be examined and discussed.

A new book which has just been published “The International Dimensions of Cyberspace Law’ looks at these kinds of issues and the frameworks, governance and controls of cyberspace and how they impact on legal and policy responses. Ms Longworth has contributed the first article in the book.

She has also recently returned from UNESCO Infoethics conferences in Beijing and Paris, which examined issues of universal access to the knowledge economy, implications of the “digital divide”, what the public sector can do to facilitate access to the net, problems with intellectual property, and issues of human dignity (including privacy and freedom of expression).

Ms Longworth says UNESCO is the only global organisation trying to focus debate on the non-economic implications of the Internet.

“UNESCO is doing very important work in this area. Instead of focussing just on e-commerce, it’s essential to think about the ethical, social and cultural implications of what is happening with the Internet. No one else in the international community seems to be doing this

“If we’re not careful, we’ll end up with a global information infrastructure, and e-policies, which are driven purely by trading relationships; it will be too late to anticipate other concerns about the impact of digital technologies on our society and human dignity.”

Elizabeth Longworth will be talking about these issues and new trends in thinking about the Internet at a UNESCO meeting in Wellington tomorrow Wednesday 6 December,
2.05 pm, James Cook Hotel, the Terrace.
Media are invited to attend.

For more information please contact
Elizabeth Rose, Secretary, NZ National Commission for UNESCO: Tel (04) 499 1004
Alison Bartley, UNESCO Communications Advisor: 025 436 123
Elizabeth Longworth: (09) 356 2641


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