Wednesday, February 15, 2006

From a while back but on-target today

Adam Thierrer of the Cato Institute wrote this in July of '02. It's a warning about the potential for each country in the world to impose censorship on the Internet. This anecdote was particularly interesting:
The most prominent example of such international mischief so far has been the efforts by the French courts to force the American-based web portal company Yahoo! to remove, or at least block from the view of French citizens, those portions of its website where Nazi memorabilia was for sale. Although a lower district court in California held last November that the French ruling could not be extraterritorially enforced here in America, former Yahoo! CEO Timothy Koogle, who resides in the United States, could still be convicted, fined $40,000, and face up to five years in prison if he ever sets foot in France in the future. Declining to dismiss the charges against Koogle and Yahoo! the Paris Criminal Court held in February 2002 that the case could go forward and noted that "the French judge is free to adopt his own principles of international criminal jurisdiction to sanction offenses that are completely or partially committed abroad and are likely to threaten national interests" to the extent that "the website's message or contents are made accessible, through the Internet, within French territory."

Under that standard, anything posted anywhere else in the world that was potentially offensive to French "national interests" might be subject to regulation or even criminal penalties by French officials. If such parochial speech controls were enforceable across the globe, "content providers would have no practical choice but to restrict their speech to the lowest common denominator in order to avoid potentially crushing liability," argues Corn-Revere.

This makes the noise over Google and Yahoo censorship in China more understandable.

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