France : The “Civilized” Internet According to President Sarkozy

French president Nicolas Sarkozy hoped to use the G8 summit of 2011 as an opportunity to improve the country's reputation on an international level and, indirectly, within its own bleak political landscape.  What better way than the ultimate symbol of modernity, the Internet?  To implement the idea, the G8 summit in Deauville, France, which was held on May 26-27, 2011, was  preceded by a forum held in Paris on May 24-25, the so-called the eG8.  However, with the only guests being government representatives and directors of leading IT companies, this forum dealt with much more than issues of economy, copyright and security.

Disappointment and petitions

Although investigative efforts were made, no positive reactions were found on French-speaking blogs. Thus, an article entitled #eG8 : Error progress not found on the Electron Libre website reads:

Some called it a pointless conference, arranged at the last minute as if for electioneering motives.  In retrospect, it seems that they weren't far from the truth.   Most noticeable was the absence of the citizens and the free world from this forum whose potential impact on the future of the web is heavily doubted.

This ‘civilised’ Internet proposed by Nicolas Sarkozy sparked a petition on Access entitled  “G8: Protect the Net” (in English, German and Spanish), the suggestion of a petition on Avaaz, the Civil Society Statement for the eG8 and G8 by la Quadrature du Net on May 24, and the concern from CNIL

Reporters without Borders, the only organisation aside from the Electronic Frontier Foundation to have been invited to take part in the eG8, condemned behind undercover “attempts to regulate Internet” :

[…] the existence of double standards between the rhetoric by certain democracies and their actual actions, about the treatment of WikiLeaks by the American administration.  The other democracies are no different : “it's easy to stand up for freedom of speach in Syria, but we should also do so in Italy, Australia and France.”

Postmortem of a promise

Things had actually started rather well in May 2010, with the project led by the former French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bernard Kouchner, in which the Internet was used to defend freedom of speach.   Alas, the weekly newspaper Marianne hihlights how Nicolas Sarkozy, the “cyber-president,” put a dead stop to the Quai d'Orsay's vague attempts of using the internet to promote human rights:

Of all the issues on Kouchner's agenda, only economic development, security, cybercrime, Internet governance and Hadopi remain – freedom of speach mysteriously disappeared.  Cyber-dissidents are most definitely becoming ‘persona non grata’ for the eG8.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy at the eG8Forum, photo by cattias on Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Journal Libre provides an anthology of the words of this eG8's host:

Internet and society : “Don't let the revolution you started threaten the basic right of every individual to a private life and full self-reliance.  Don't let the technology you shaped threaten the basic right of children to live shielded from the perversion of some grown-ups.  Don't let the revolution you started convey unhindered and unrestrained evil.”

Internet, friend of democracies or tool for the powerful ?

The advocates of civil society have an alternative vision of the internet.  Korben finds this notion of “civilised Internet” “mind-boggling”:

Perhaps Internet is the tool that people needed to highlight their utopias.

The eG8 is the complete opposite.  It's the tool, or rather the giant advert which polititians need to regain control of something that is eluding them.  The eG8 is the bling bling that's trying to outshine the true Internet.

(…) the Internet which gives everybody the floor, which encourages knowledge and sharing, which gives wings to democacy.  An Internet free from any control, from any censorship.

For Pixellibre, this time it is the last straw therefore his “huge rant” at president Sarkozy:

Through stigmatising the Internet as a lawless space, needing to be muzzled, you're going to trigger something unstoppable and believe me sir, it's a game you're sure to lose.

(…) Please have a little more consideration for freedom of expression and bloggers, we are talking about human lives, about the most elementary right of all: freedom…yet you talk about the HADOPI law [Fr]…you still did not understand how much the Internet matters.

Action needed

The website makes fun of the “great lovers of free, open and neutral Internet”: the industry's big companies selling technologies of censorship, and intends to describe, in a series of posts:

the technologies, the practice and operators of Deep Packet Inspection.  The “well-known ones”, like QosmosAlcatelThalesNokia Siemens, Cisco…but also the less known ones whose action, in investing in markets, exporting products, sometimes to dictatorships, . . .makes us feel uneasy.

The website parti pirate assesses the measures taken in France by Nicolas Sarkozy with regard to the Internet and finds a whiff of Chinese-style control in them:

Through the false notion of a “lawless” space and the desire to “civilize” it, Nicolas Sarkozy is turning the Internet into a space where the government has full control and where private societies hunt down harmless netizens with all implied excesses.

Jérémie Zimmermann, co-founder de La quadrature du netconcludes :

The Internet belongs to all of us, las a common resource, and together we must hold governments responsible for the protection of its openness, which is at the root of our individual liberties.

As if you were there. . .

Some live tweets:

@jerezim : The speech would be truly magnificent if it wasn't just being addressed to CEO's… #eG8 #Sarkozy

@jeffjarvis :  #eG8,  government acts as if it should protect us from the internet. Instead, the internet needs protection from government

M_C_B : Well, #eG8 is the Americans coming to Paris to tell the Old Continent not to regulate the Web…. #firstimpression

@VinZ : Wikipedia on the rostrum is considered a representative of civil society #eG8 its presence on this panel is welcome

If you haven't been following the live or pre-recorded demonstration on France Télévision TV, Korben posted a selection of oral presentations [Fr], and this “hard-won press conference” of civil society representatives.

And the eG8 forum is on Twitter.

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