Squaring the Net in Washington Internet Daily

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A new French citizens’ lobbying group wants public debate on Internet-related regulation affecting human rights and freedoms, one of its organizers told us Friday. “Squaring the Net” (La quadrature du net) hopes to help spur a “societal movement which we feel is ready to develop,” said Philippe Aigrain, director of the Society for Public Information Spaces.

Among other things, the group wants the French government to use its role as EU Presidency beginning in July to persuade member countries to think hard before leaping into new Internet rules, he said. Promoters of projects Squaring the Net seeks to halt “are trying to solve a problem similar to squaring the circle,” the group’s website says. It’s impossible to control information flow by law or technology without harming public freedoms and eco-nomic and social development, the site says. The group so far enrolls “tens of individuals” from the technical, research, academic, legal, artistic and web entrepreneurial sectors, Aigrain told us.

The body has several issues in its sights: (1) Efforts to require ISPs to filter networks for infringing content. (2) A proposed a “three-strikes” system in which alleged pirates would get two warnings and then have their Internet access cut off. (3) A government plan to fight cybercrime by such methods as making it easier to identify and locate Internet users. Squaring the Net also worries about efforts to set up a body to regulate online services and to require retention of connection data such as passwords and terminals used, it said. The group will urge officials not to push legislation without broad, open debate, Aigrain said. It will vet proposals and offer options for helping society, culture, creators and the economy benefit from the Internet, he said. It will seek ties with those not traditionally mobilized on Internet issues, such as cultural and youth networks and “citizen consumer” groups, he said. There will be a web petition soon, but “we know that web-based action will not be enough,” he said.

The French effort builds on recent Swedish and Danish debates, Aigrain said. Both countries rejected key elements of the French proposals — notably, the three-strike approach, ending Internet subscriptions, and confusing non-commercial file-sharing with criminal or harmful behavior, he said. The coming French Presidency originally was seen as an opportunity to export France’s proposals to the rest of Europe, Aigrain said. That plan looks iffy now that Sweden and Denmark have rejected similar strategies, he said.

— DS