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Wednesday, 29 November, 2000, 14:24 GMT
Experts question Yahoo auction ruling
Banned swastika AP
Experts have panned efforts to ban access to Nazi auctions
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

Two of the three experts whose testimony led a French court to tell Yahoo to stop French web surfers seeing auctions of Nazi memorabilia have criticised the judge's decision.

The opinion of the technical experts is widely believed to have helped convince the French court that it was worth telling Yahoo to install a system to stop a majority of French web users looking at the offending sites.

Now, two of the three witnesses have criticised the ruling saying any restrictions can be "trivially" avoided and that it might tempt more repressive regimes to make the same demands.

As Yahoo prepares its appeal against the French ruling, German police are starting to investigate the site over allegations that it has been selling copies of Hitler's Mein Kampf which is banned in the country.

Judge rules

On 20 November, French judge Jean-Jacques Gomez re-affirmed an earlier ruling that called on Yahoo to stop French web surfers seeing the auction of Nazi memorabilia on the portal's US site.

The case against Yahoo was brought by the Paris-based International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism, the Union of French Jewish Students and the Movement against Racism.

Before making his decision, the judge sought testimony from three technical experts on whether it was possible for Yahoo to comply with any ruling.

The three experts called on were internet pioneer Vint Cerf, British Apache web-server guru Ben Laurie and Francois Wallon who works for the French government's office of technology.

Web block

Now, Mr Cerf and Mr Laurie have expressed doubts about the ruling and how it might be made to work.

Mr Cerf, who is also head of net body Icann, said if the French court enforced its ruling other governments might ask other web businesses to introduce similar curbs.

He said the French court had ignored warnings from the experts about the "limitations and risks" of trying to stop French people seeing the auctions of Nazi memorabilia.

"Ignored was the observation that if every jurisdiction in the world insisted on some form of filtering for its particular geographic territory, the world wide web would stop functioning," he said.

Online apology

British expert Ben Laurie has joined the criticism of the French court saying the decision was "half-assed".

Mr Laurie has posted an apology for the decision on the web which says that when the experts made their decision they laid aside their political views and simply looked at whether it was technically feasible to block French surfers.

The panel concluded that it was possible by looking at the net address of visitors or by simply asking them if they were French and then posting a file called a "cookie" on their computer so Yahoo could spot them next time they visited.

In the apology, Mr Laurie says any technical remedies are "inaccurate, ineffective and trivially avoided" and calls the French court's solution "half-assed".

The French courts have given Yahoo three months to come up with a technical solution or it will face daily fines.

As Yahoo mulls an appeal, the German authorities are investigating the site over allegations that copies of Hitler's Mein Kampf are for sale on it. The book is banned in Germany.

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