Quelle horreur: French president wants to chop net access for alleged downloaders

French President Nicolas Sarkozy wishes to create a national surveillance program to monitor Internet users and, if they're thought to be illegally sharing content, to cut off their Net access for up to a year.

The proposed law was debated in the French Parliament this week. Sarkozy, whose model-actress wife Carla Bruni has recorded an album, is convinced that France's music and movie industries are suffering because the citizenry is downloading its wares.

The law would give accused downloaders three strikes -- sort of. The copyright holders would have access to the surveillance data; if they believed that they copyrights have been violated, they notify the user's ISP, which first sends an email, then a registered letter, then cuts off net access for 3-12 months. (If this sounds like something you've heard before in a different accent, you may be thinking of the British, or perhaps New Zealand. Both those efforts have been terminated, but this is France.)

It seems a bit like deploying a bazooka to kill a housefly; recent polls show that two-thirds of all French net users have never downloaded illegally, including a surprising 43% of all 18- to 24-year-olds. But HADOPI, as it's called (named for the commercial entity that will undertake the surveillance, it's occasionally called Loi Olivennes after the electronics-firm executive who spearheaded the bill), has gotten as far as full-Parliament deliberations.

A "Creation and Internet" law has been attempted before. Sarkozy first floated the concept in November 2007 and it was quickly sluiced through the Senate, only to hit a wall later in the legislative process. It was suspected at the time that had it passed, it would have run afoul of the European Union's own laws on the matter, which state that restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms can only be set by the judiciary, not by legislative bodies.

Critics have other problems with the law as well. There's no innocence or guilt established by the process, they note, nor any procedure for establish the facts or appeal the judgment -- only accusation and action. (As they have in America, the music and movie industries have argued that proof would be too complicated to establish.) The European Commission last October noted its objections to that approach, stating that as framed the system would endanger citizens' rights to an equitable trial. Others have noted that there are no protections for users whose connections are hijacked or abused without their knowledge.

A blackout protest of the sort done to draw attention to the now-discarded New Zealand legislation is underway. (Sarkozy photo above by Aleph, from Wikimedia Commons)

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