Internet Regulation Needed, Sarkozy Tells Tech Bosses

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

French President Nicolas Sarkozy lectured tech leaders before the G8 summit

Ahead of the G8 economic summit in France later this week, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has addressed a conference of tech leaders urging them to work with governments over internet regulations.

Attending the open speech of the eG8 digital forum were approximately 1,500 guests including some of the leaders of top IT organisations. Tech big wigs included Google’s Eric Schmidt; Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg; Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales; and eBay President John Donahoe.

During the open speech, the French president said that he felt that the eG8 was a unique chance for the main players in the development of information and communications to meet heads of state.

President Sarkozy said he hoped it could become an annual event.

Internet Revolution

According to Reuters, President Sarkozy heaped praise on the industry that democratised information and helped enable the revolutions of the Arab Spring. However he told the audience that the internet must not be ‘a parallel universe outside laws and morals’.

He said that the internet itself had been a revolution that had changed people’s perception of time, of the world and history. “You have changed the world … it has been a total global revolution. What has been unique in this revolution is that it belongs to nobody; it has no flag, no slogan, it is a common good,” he reportedly said.

“What is also unique about this revolution is that it was done without violence. It was not fought on battlefields but on university campuses,” he added.

However, Sarkozy warned the internet could not be allowed to become a “parallel universe” or a replacement for traditional democracy.

Work With Governments

“You have given every individual the chance to be heard everywhere by anyone. People have never had this chance before in history, but that right cannot be held by destroying the rights of others.

“Total transparency has to be balanced by individual liberty. Do not forget that every anonymous internet user comes from a society and has a life.”

He added: “Governments are the legitimate guardians of our societies and do not forget this.”

Digital Regulation

It has to be said that Sarkozy does not enjoy a particularly close relationship with the online industry considering France’s tough anti-piracy law for cutting off people from the Internet if found guilty of piracy.

And earlier this year Sarkozy also attracted criticism from net neutrality advocates, because of his intention to introduce Internet regulation as an issue at the G8 Summit.

However Sarkozy hoped to ease tensions by urging caution in regulating the digital economy.

But he insisted that Governments did have a role in setting ground rules to limit the abuses and excesses of the Internet, highlighting in particular privacy and intellectual property.

“We don’t want to make mistakes in regulating this powerful yet fragile ecosystem,” he was quoted as saying. “We have to act with pragmatism. It is better to do nothing than to do harm.”

“These algorithms that constitute your power … this technology that is changing the world, are your property and nobody can contest that,” he said. “Writers, directors or actors can have the same rights.”

Monopoly Concerns

Sarkozy also voiced his concern over monopolies forming online. The European Union for example is currently investigating Google’s dominant position in the search market.

“Do not allow new monopolies to take root where you are have overturned seemingly unchangeable situations,” he said.

“We need to talk to you. We need to understand your expertise, your hopes … and you have to know our limits and our red lines,” he added.

Google Tax

Sarkozy has previously not been shy about making his ‘red lines’ known.

In the past for example he supported a proposal that could lead to foreign Internet firms such as Google, Facebook and Yahoo being taxed for doing business in France. Dubbed the ‘Google Tax’, the controversial proposals would force foreign Internet firms to pay a new tax on their online advertising revenue in France.

Sarkozy however did not mention this and instead said that the conclusions of the forum would be communicated to heads of state at the G8 meeting.

“Yesterday’s dreams have become realities, and the universe of possibilities grows broader around us every day,” he said.

“Democracy and human rights have been reinforced, states have been incited to greater transparency and, in some countries, oppressed peoples have been empowered to make their voices heard and to act collectively in the name of freedom.”