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Monday, 27 November, 2000, 14:09 GMT
Can the web be regulated?

Yahoo!, one of the world's biggest internet portals, has been forced by a French court to prevent people in France from accessing websites which offer Nazi memorabilia.

It is the first time that an online content provider has been asked to impose national limits to material on the net.

"This throws up the question of whether one country has the right to impose its rules on companies in another country," said Sue Jackson, a Yahoo! Europe spokeswoman.

Can the laws of one country be applied to the borderless world wide web? Is there a case for global laws regulating the internet?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

A few harmless scraps of cloth and metal

Henry Case, UK
We're talking about a perfectly reasonable, and legal, trade in antique militaria - a few harmless scraps of cloth and metal. The vast majority of legitimate dealers and collectors are not "neo-Nazis". I don't share some people's morbid passion for true-life crime magazines, but I'm not so stupid as to imagine that it makes them all potential copycat killers. And it doesn't make a case for censorship and banning, either.
Henry Case, UK

It seems that the words of one of France's greatest minds are falling on deaf ears: I may not agree with what you have to say, but I'd fight to my death defending your right to say it - Voltaire.
Robert Reel, USA

Maybe the US should prohibit the selling of any French merchandise to its citizens. Any violation would result in a fine imposed on France.
Brad, USA

Kenneth Henry has completely missed the point. I, too, have no desire to own Nazi items or to see their empire return. However, once the principle of freedom of speech is established ALL human beings have the right to free speech. To say that someone's right to speech is curtailed simply because you don't happen to agree with their views is alarmingly similar to denying someone's right to religious worship because they happen to be Jewish. Before you judge us, take a long look at yourself.
John S, UK

This is a clear case of an old person, who has not got a clue as to what and how technology works, trying to apply 19th century rationale to 21st century problems - both socially and technically speaking. As I recall, the only thing that Prohibition was successful at was creating some very efficient and profitable crime organisations, which are still with us today.
John Spears, Canada

Sorry Kenneth Henry but Martin Bentley is absolutely right! If you think banning right-wing groups and censoring the internet is the answer to stop racism and fascism then you must be living on Cloud Nine! Most believers in democracy like myself feel very strongly about maintaining freedom of speech at all costs, banning these groups will just simply turn fascism into an underground movement, and would probably get more sympathy and support off the general public! Censoring the internet or violating free speech is very much an extremist act, an invasion of privacy and an act of totalitarianism. I don't support any form of racism, fascism or communism, but if the French courts think they have a right to dictate people not to view extremist web sites then they are hypocrites!
Andrew, Wales

If this is to proceed, I would like to prevent any one from accessing anything I find objectionable.
Kevin Winkman, USA

When did this change?

Keith McMillen, US
Governments everywhere should only have very limited ability to censor the speech of individuals. This is the principle behind the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Political correctness is censorship and what the French court has put forth is a universal violation of the principle of liberty and the freedom of speech. At one time I learned that the French Republic was based upon Liberty. When did this change?
Keith McMillen, US

This is a dreadful ruling and should be challenged. The Internet should not be policed. It is, like the multinationals, trans-national. It allows (gives) everyone with access a voice and governments/corporations are threatened by this. I do not want any government or Nazi crank controlling what I submit or access on-line. ALL human life is there - good, bad and monstrous.
Stephen Moore, UK

This will open the door for clamping down on the Internet

A Johnstone, London, UK
This will open the door for clamping down on the Internet. The moment France gets away with this, a string of other countries will follow and soon the Internet will be regulated by people similar to these ancient dinosaur-type movie censors. The Internet will not be the Internet any more. Yahoo should withdraw their company from France. There are lots of other countries that will welcome Yahoo with open arms without giving them any hassle.
A Johnstone, London, UK

However repugnant we may find this material, censoring, banning or restricting ideas is never successful. The ideas simply descend to places were the fresh air of thorough debate never reaches. It is far better to let ideas out into the light, where they can be seen for what they are - whether commendable or facile.
James Maclaren, UK

I think it is absolutely vital that all authoritative intervention into Web content is avoided. This is a matter of human rights - everyone should have equal rights to free speech, no matter how twisted their views. Once you outlaw one mode of thought, it inevitably has a domino effect. Preventing speech of one kind is really preventing dialogue, and therefore resolution.
Steve Beckett, UK

The consequences can sometimes be unforeseen and unpalatable

Jason Jones, England
I think everyone agrees there are many aspects of life we could do without and would like to see removed from public access. Nazism, Paedophiles and many other things, but where do you draw the line? We have to remember that one person's art is another's pornography, is a comment insulting or humorous? When we impose restrictions on the freedom of others, the consequences can sometimes be unforeseen and unpalatable. Once a law is passed we cannot say "Hang on we never meant it to cover that". Will sexism be next on the list and will this outlaw comedians? In the end there is no freedom without law and order, only anarchy but, whose law is it anyway?
Jason Jones, England

It is profoundly naive and self-blinding to presume that Web traffic is not monitored, analysed, and subjected to a level of scrutiny that any social psychologist or counter-intelligence traffic analyst would ever have dreamed possible 30 years ago. It is therefore absurd to be concerned over one nation's attempt to bring some form of editorial quality standards to what is or is not available on the Net for public view. To defend the Net rights of those who promote genocide is as insane as was Neville Chamberlain's Munich Pact. Vive la France!
Walt O'Brien, USA

Martin Bentley is talking rubbish. I'm not "as bad" as a Nazi for not wanting to hear their hatred-inciting views. It's not like the message has changed in 60 years. There's only a small step from buying this stuff on the Internet, to joining organised Fascist groups, to carrying out racial attacks on non-whites. France let Nazis walk all over them 60 years ago - they've seen first hand the results of "letting" Nazis have their say without policing. If they are trying to do something constructive about it now - great. Yes, the ban can be circumvented - and policed again as long as they keep it up.
Kenneth Henry, UK

Just how does the judge propose that we censor a network that was designed to still operate after a nuclear holocaust? If you block one access route another will always become available. That's the underlying principle behind the design of the Internet. It's a sad fact of life that if you allow free speech you are going to have to accept that some people will say things that you find distasteful. A ban is not the answer.
Robert Gosling, UK

Though I would personally agree that there is questionable material available on the net, imposing restrictions, effectively denying part of history demonstrates a very narrow minded attitude. If the state acts to remove individual freedom of choice then they are not all that far removed, in this case, than the originators of the material being banned.
Bernie Evans, England

I believe that applying censorship and restrictive laws to the Internet will rob the Internet of its whole purpose. The Internet is the world on screen, you can access any belief, project, idea or organisation on the net. Some of them may conflict or seem repulsive but the Internet represents the growing freedom of the world today. To hamper this explosion of expression will be a step in the wrong direction.
Nicholas Bradley, UK

And while we're at it, let's stop the tide coming in.
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK

The whole point of the Internet is that there is no one route from A to B - there are numerous ones, and no one company offering a service. If Yahoo block the sale of Nazi memorabilia on their site, a multitude of other sites can be used. You will never stop this kind of sale. It is far better to manage the sale through a site where audit trails can be kept so at least we know who is buying this stuff (like the governments don't know already !!).
Andy, Brit living in U.S.

What new form of democracy is this?

Alan, UK
Companies banning employee access to certain sites during working hours is one thing. But national governments attempting to ban citizen access to certain sites at all times? What new form of democracy is this?
Alan, UK

As much as I detest Nazis, censoring their right to freedom of speech in effect makes you as bad as them. Rather than censorship, devote your efforts to showing them as backward mentally deficient. If this does get posted then at least I have the right to call them stupid. If it doesn't maybe the censorship 'Nazi's' at the BBC are more influential that we thought. Interesting test perhaps? Freedom of speech and thought should be protected even if the social norms find what is said to be against it's value system. Ultimately that is the greatness of the World Wide Web - it is so difficult for our governments to police our thinking freely.
Martin Bentley, U.K

The verdict does not amount to applying the laws of one country to another. All it says is that Yahoo cannot offer Nazi products in France. Fair enough
Tridiv Borah, Germany

I have never understood the desire to collect items related to the mass murdering Nazis. However if other people want to let them and let the courts stay out of the way.
Richard T. Ketchum, USA

This is an outrageous act of PC correctness and smacks of Nanny State. Blocking collectors from buying and selling such items will do nothing but curb human rights and forcing them to purchase the items illegally. What a total waste of time and money.

Can the laws of one country be applied to the borderless World Wide Web? Of course not. A well-known IT person (whose name presently escapes me!) once said something to the effect that: "The internet was designed to survive a nuclear attack: it routes around attempted censorship as if it were damage". I think this French judge should change his name to "Canute".
Mike Ross, Scot in the USA

This is all wrong, everyone as got an axe to grind, before we know it all content regardless of what it is will offend someone and the net will be empty. For example anti-capitalists could complain about every commercial site and different religious groups finding each other's content offensive.
Stephen, UK

Without freedom of speech the internet will not flourish. I think that it is impossible to police the internet by nation. I know that there are lots of things out there that certain people find offensive but maybe they should use the same methods that are used for traditional s-commerce (high street shops) and not go to those places that sell the products that they do not want to buy or look at.
Ian Bailey, England

There has to be some restrictions somewhere

Paula Rudd, England
I think that this is absolutely right. There has to be some restrictions somewhere and if the rules made are for the greater good of everybody, then I totally agree!
Paula Rudd, England

I don't believe that a single country's laws can be applied to the World Wide Web, however this does not mean that it should be unregulated, if this media is to be taken seriously and embraced wholeheartedly by the entire world population, then regulation is needed. However this would require the co-operation of all nations with internet architecture, and unlikely occurrence in the current climate.
Joe, UK

I think the French courts are on a hiding to nothing. An organisation like Yahoo may be willing and able to comply, but a thousand other sites will not comply and can change its "front" website in minutes. A better approach may be to engage the credit card companies in a dialogue about who their clients are.
J Davies, UK

The French ruling won't solve anything. Besides, who has the right to tell us what we can and can't see?

Alex White, UK
As much as I disagree with the sale of Nazi memorabilia, it shouldn't be banned. With regard to Yahoo, why on earth should they restrict the access they give? It's only going to push the Nazi sellers to another country under a new name. The French ruling won't solve anything. Besides, who has the right to tell us what we can and can't see? Censorship is far too conservative as it is, without having a nanny state protecting us as though we're children.
Alex White, UK

This is nothing more than the usual Gallic arrogance. They expect a US company, based in the US, with its servers in the US, serving an international audience, to comply with a ruling from one country that is known to be hostile to the US. To think the French criticise the US for international arrogance simply adds to their own arrogance.
John B, UK

Once again the French, like the extinct Soviets, mistakenly believe they should have complete control over people's actions and thoughts. While the ideas and symbolism the Nazi memorabilia represent are abhorrent, to try and regulate the sale and distribution of it is mere folly.
A Barnes, USA

For me the question is not about one country trying to impose its laws on another, its about why a reputable company like Yahoo wants to peddle this filth in the first place!
Simon Gould, Germany

People shouldn't hide the terrible truth of what happened in the past, and face their fears

Michael Huckaby, USA
What other items will they regulate someone from selling. People shouldn't hide the terrible truth of what happened in the past, and face their fears. They shouldn't hide the fact that many people desire Nazi memorabilia, slavery, etc. for a reason. Now if these people begin to use to harm others that's another problem that should be dealt with by the law of the land.
Michael Huckaby, USA

No, I don't think this is a good development. It goes far beyond the issue of Nazism and such, for instance: An Islamic country could force Christian web-pages of the Net. An atheist such as myself may not care much, but it just goes to show that ANY country can have a profound impact on the net. This may come back stronger than you may think.
Wouter Verheul, Netherlands

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21 Nov 00 | Europe
Yahoo hits back at Nazi ruling
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