Fear and Loathing on the Internet. (Tech Talk)

By Piazza, Peter | Security Management, May 2002 | Go to article overview

Fear and Loathing on the Internet. (Tech Talk)


Piazza, Peter, Security Management


Racist or xenophobic material is anathema to most reasonable people, but it is grudgingly tolerated in the United States with a nod to the First Amendment Not so in many parts of Europe. And the global sweep of the Internet has complicated the issue.

Now, the Council of Europe has issued a preliminary draft of an addendum to last year's Cybercrime Treaty that would criminalize the placement of racist or xenophobic content on the Internet. Though the preliminary draft acknowledges "a proper balance between freedom of expression and an effective fight against acts of a racist or xenophobic nature through computer networks," the addendum nonetheless would make it a criminal offense to offer, make available, distribute, transmit, or produce racist or xenophobic material with a computer or through computer network.

According to a statement by Henrik W. K. Kaspersen, chairman of the Committee of Experts on the Criminalisation of Acts of Racist or Xenophobic Nature Committed through Computer Networks, "a large part of the countries that negotiated the cybercrime Convention" last year wanted to establish a provision that would ban hate materials.

The addendum, Kaspersen writes, will "harmonise criminal law with regard to the dissemination of racist and xenophobic material," and it will also expand the mutual assistance and investigative powers provisions of the original cybercrime treaty to cover hate material.

The United States, which had observer status for the drafting of the treaty, has yet to ratify the original cybercrime treaty and is not likely to agree to the addendum, says Brian Hengesbaugh, an attorney with Baker & McKenzie's Chicago office. Hengesbaugh, who is familiar with the treaty from his previous position with the U.S. Department of Commerce, says that while the final form of the addendum is not yet known, "the idea is that there would be restrictions on racist and xenophobic speech that most likely would come at least partially into conflict with freedom-of-speech rights in this country. …

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