Warning: Our Art May Be Your Porn

Editors Refuse to Guarantee 'Clean' Metropole

Paris:- Saturday, 11. May 1996:- Wednesday's Le Parisian carried the 'newsgroup kiddie porn' story, with statements from the French Internet provider chiefs that were jailed - statements of facts known to most Internet users, but apparently of no concern to the prosecuting Judge in the case, Mr. Berkany.

The police officer who lead the investigation, Lieutenant-colonel Browne, also made statements to Le Parisien, that indicated he was familiar enough with the Newsgroup sector of the Internet, to know that the two men under investigation were not the originators of the offending material. If he was quoted correctly, he said, "On the Internet, information is a bit like free electrons. One does not know much from where they come, who sent them, nor who consults them."

Nevertheless, the Judge, Mr. Berkany, in having the men arrested, did so under French law which forbids 'diffusion of pornographic images of minors.' If found guilty, the French provider chiefs could face three years in prison, 'because the infants photographed were under 15 years of age.' How the judge can prove this in a court of law remains to be seen, when the origin of the material can not be determined, nor can the ages of those depicted be legally verified.

Internet news had to give way to football celebrations in Thursday's Le Parisien, but the Friday edition carried a report based on Wednesday's AFPI news conference.

Additional information indicated that the Worldnet director - one of the two men arrested - Sébastien Socchard, told Le Parisien that Worldnet received its netfeed from France Telecom's 'Transpac,' which in turn received the newsgroups section from Paris' Jussieu University. Mr Socchard added that Worldnet carried 6,900 newsgroups and had new postings of between 50,000 and 100,000 new documents per day - and by implication said that it would be impossible for a ISP to filter all of this volume.

All the same, the ISPs do cut off supply of newsgroups with obviously provocative names such as 'alt.sex.kinky,' but they are powerless if the content of a particular group is hidden behind an innocuous name such at 'alt.toys.tinkerbell' for example.

In Friday's Multimedia section of Libération, in a comment on this subject, Laurent Mauriac wrote that even if media reports are imprecise, they have the merit of launching debate on the subject. But he also fears, "the willingness to make the Internet a controlled area, antiseptic, cleaned up enough for electronic commerce; rather than a means freely for exchanging ideas."

Early on Friday morning, the ISP, Worldnet posted the following on their web site, under the title:

'Justice - Internet / Pedophilia: a Misinterpretation'

'The judicial examination of the directors of the two Internet providers (accused of) distribution of the pedophilic images was, "Based on a misinterpretation," François Fillon guessed today.

'According to the minister of telecommunications, "One knows that a transporter of information can not be held responsible for the information transported;"

'A taskforce, initiated by the minister a few weeks ago, is considering adapting legislation to respond to these new technologies.'

Outright anger and shock were displayed during Wednesday's news conference, organized by the AFPI. Discussions between this association of French ISPs and officials of the telecommunications ministry have been going on for some time - and the last thing they expected was to have one of their founding members arrested and tossed into jail.

Metropole itself produces content and makes it available to Internet users. Since our subject is Paris, which has a lot of capital 'A' art and it is part and parcel of daily life in Paris - on public view for all citizens, and the tens of millions of annual visitors - we are going to reproduce it in our online publication.

We have no control of the educational or cultural level of anybody who will have access to our publication - so we are going to assume that what is certified as art and has been accepted as such by hundreds of millions of people around the world, is just going to have to be acceptable to a few people who don't think so. If it isn't, they can simply 'go back' or turn their access machine off. Nobody is forced to look at or read this publication.

(See "We Are All Guilty," also in this issue of Metropole.)

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