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French government begins shutting down websites with unpopular political views; Net Neutrality widens door to censorship in US


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(NaturalNews) In a precursor to what "Net neutrality" rules or national security "concerns" could eventually lead to in the United States, "democratic" France has just blocked a handful of web sites it has deemed favorable to terrorists and their organizations.

As reported by Agence France Presse, the country's leading newswire service, the French government in Paris blocked five web sites it accused of "condoning terrorism" in what is the first employment of new government powers that took effect in February, according to the Interior Ministry.

One site, called al-Hayat Media Center, has been accused by French authorities of having links to the Islamic State, the ministry announced. In addition, the site Islamic-news.info has also been cut off in recent days.

"I do not want to see sites that could lead people to take up arms on the Internet," said Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, in announcing the blockages.

"I make a distinction between freedom of expression and the spread of messages that serve to glorify terrorism. These hate messages are a crime," he added.

'We decide what is and is not terrorism - and it's not reviewable'

The ministry sent ban orders to the affected Internet Service Providers with instructions to take "all necessary measures to block the listing of these addresses," citing the new authority.

AFP reported that an Interior Ministry official acknowledged that a ban on host and publisher sites that were deemed to be supportive of terrorism and terrorist activities, which were not identified, would have been better than asking ISPs to block sites.

"We are in an evaluation and trial phase," the official said.

Despite that, however, the ministry plans similar operations that will target "dozens" of additional sites.

The new authority is part of a package of counter-terrorism measures that were approved by parliament in November. Parliament passed the measures prior to the January 7 attack on the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, by two Islamic militant brothers, though those attacks have caused much introspection in the French republic.

Still, critics say that the new rules could be misinterpreted - intentionally - to shutter legitimate sites just because a government official finds them offensive or deems them to be "dangerous."

As reported by AFP:

Other powers of the counter-terrorism measures include the right to stop people travelling out of the country if they are suspected of trying to join jihadist groups.

Six French citizens aged between 23 and 28 had their passports and identity cards confiscated in February for a period of six months. The order can be renewed.

Cazeneuve said at the time that 40 more people were likely to be barred from travelling in the coming weeks.

Writing in The Intercept investigative reporter Glen Greenwald, one a few journalists provided information abut the NSA's massive surveillance technology by former contractor Edward Snowden, wrote in a post that authoritarian government might just be "scarier" than suspected terrorism.

He observed:

No judge reviews the Interior Ministry's decisions. The minister first requests that the website owner voluntarily remove the content he deems transgressive; upon disobedience, the minister unilaterally issues the order to Internet service providers for the sites to be blocked. ...

Forcibly taking down websites deemed to be supportive of terrorism, or criminalizing speech deemed to "advocate" terrorism, is a major trend in both Europe and the West generally. Last month in Brussels, the European Union's counter-terrorism coordinator issued a memo proclaiming that "Europe is facing an unprecedented, diverse and serious terrorist threat," and argued that increased state control over the Internet is crucial to combating it.

Rules prohibiting 'harm' to consumers is 'vague'

In the U.S., critics of the Obama FCC's new "net neutrality" rules have warned that they are not about ensuring a neutral Internet but will instead eventually lead to similar censorship.

In a report shortly after the FCC issued the rule, Reuters noted it was "vague" and that enforcement of rules could wind up being selective:

In the general conduct provision, the FCC will say that Internet providers' actions cannot be harmful to consumers or content providers, and will outline seven elements that the regulators would consider in reviewing potential violations of that standard, agency officials have said.

But the Internet providers, who reject the tougher regulatory regime, as well as advocates of stronger regulation, both say that this general conduct provision is too vague.

Under the guise of "terrorism," much speech in the U.S. has already been subject to government approval.





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