The Closing of the Net  "original and valuable"  Times Higher Education

France's Minister of Culture Christine Albanel, wants public wifi hotspots to use a State-approved whitelist of websites. Like the white witch of Narnia, is she condemning her country to a hundred years of cyber-winter?

 

Reports in the French media say that Christine Albanel, the Minister of culture who is responsible for the graduated response,  Hadopi law , intends to make public access wifi services use whitelists  is  as a means of stopping people downloading copyrighted content. So desperate is she, that not one song or movie should be freely downloaded, that she wants to lock out the millions of businesses who have invested in e-commerce or promotional  sites, as well as other media sites and blogs which contribute to the Information Society. She wants to bring down ‘a white portcullis'  - medieval security for the 21st century.

Her comments were reported on the French website PC Inpact , which has also got hold of the original report that briefed Mme Albanel . It also isn't clear just what wifi will have to implement the whitelist, whether it is just very large public ones, or private residential - which would mean a large majority of broadband users.

Her plan has been criticised by citizens groups as a ‘return to a state'controlled network'. 

It made me think of a character in the CS Lewis stories, the Chronicles of Narnia - the white witch, who condemned the land to a hundred years of winter. If she pursues the white list idea, then Mme Albanel, like the white witch, will condemn France to a long cyber-winter.

 

Sadly, this is not an extreme view, but a logical consequence. Whitelists are the opposite of blacklists. Whitelists contain what is permitted. Blacklists contain what is not permitted. So a whitelist will be a list of government-approved websites. Given the sheer scale of the Internet inside and outside France, the list will by necessity, only contain a small number of the total number of websites that exist.

Mme Albanel says

the white list will contain a limited number of  websites which are ‘essential to the everyday life. In her briefing document, it suggests that hospitals, universities, schools and local authorities could be on it, as well as "personnes morales privees...MacDonald"  I think the interpretation of this would be that large companies suich as Macdonalds would be permitted on the whitelist, but the many millions of small businesses would necessarily fall out of the loop.

Aside from the obvious implications of censorship and restraint of trade within France, this must surely raise restraint of trade concerns outside France in the rest of the EU. Just one example, I know someone who operates a website selling maps. He has invested a large amount of his personal money in the site, and in getting properly promoted via Google, and other search sites. Mme Albanel's whitelist would prevent him from reaching customers in France and surely that goes against the single market principle.

The limitation of ‘Internet' to a state-approved set of mostly public service sites, with a few approved content providers, will also so radically change the character of the Internet, that it will lose its attractiveness, and its usefulness.

As another example, real-estate agents these days rely on websites.  ( I wouldn't always defend them, but in this case, I would suggest they have, like other businesses, invested in websites and deserve the chance to be viewed by potential buyers and sellers of houses.) It is less and less that people walk down the high street and browse in real-estate agents' windows to find a new home. No, people  turn to the web, where they can review and print, and compare the details of the properties they are interested in. We can expect that Mme Albanel's white portcullis will slam down on  all of these sites, simply because of the sheer numbers involved. 

 

Given this type of scenario, the Information Society will gradually die off simply because content  - on blogs, small media websites, promotional sites  and the many millions of non-commercial websites -  will be made invisible to the majority of people.

 

Meanwhile the costs fo the Hadopi law are mounting. 10,000 emails a day, 3000 recorded letters and 1000 suspensions adds up to some quite hefty costs for the ISPs. According to Liberation , France Telecom - Orange alone estimates its costs at 13 million Euro, and Numericable at 10 million. But disconnection of 1000 accounts per day - adding up to a potential of 360,000 accounts per year, could do more serious economic damage, given that it will add up to many more individuals being cut off, and that means the advertising and commercial revenues will be lost to millions of websites.

 

The French Socialist Party has said it will vote against the Hadopi law - which also raises an interesting issue for the European Parliament and the forthcoming Telecoms Package vote. 

And  there are calls for more levies on the Internet. PC Inpact also reports that the SACEM, which represents French composers and song writers,  wants to tax the Internet to raise funds for the French music industry. It says that the funds will be redistributed among creators.  The key issue when talking about such a tax si  for what purpose - that is, how will new music projects be decided and who will decide? Is it appropriate that a collecting society,  be the one to determine the new projects?

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Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten, European expert on Internet policy and Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics & Political Science. She is an independent expert on the Council of Europe Committee on Cross-border flow of Internet traffic and Internet freedom (MSI-INT). She was shortlisted for The Guardian Open Internet Poll 2012. Iptegrity  offers expert insights into Internet policy. Iptegrity has a core readership in the Brussels policy community, and has been cited in the media. Please acknowledge Iptegrity when you cite or link.  For more, see IP politics with integrity

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