France, Tech Giants Call for Online Fix to Hate Speech, Cyberattacks

President Emmanuel Macron -June 21, 2017 - Getty-H 2018
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French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday launched a push to regulate the Internet.

France and U.S. technology giants, such as Microsoft, are pushing for governments and companies worldwide to sign up for a new initiative aimed at establishing regulations for the Internet, to fight such online threats as cyber attacks, hate speech and online censorship.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday launched the new declaration, entitled the "Paris call for trust and security in cyberspace," which France is hoping will revive efforts to regulate cyberspace after the last round of United Nations negotiations on the issue failed in 2017.

Several European countries support the initiative, though, crucially, China and Russia do not. The document calls for governments to improve online security to prevent cyber meddling in democratic elections, to fight copyright theft and to protect accessibility to the Internet.

French officials said the U.S. might not become a signatory to the declaration — the Trump administration has been reluctant to join international initiatives that seek to regulate American activity, online or offline — but that several Silicon Valley giants, including Facebook and Google would likely sign up. Tech companies were among the first to push for the Paris declaration, though the French government reworked the original document to include work done by UN experts in recent years.

"Cyberspace now plays a crucial role in every aspect of our lives and it is the shared responsibility of a wide variety of actors, in their respective roles, to improve trust, security and stability in cyberspace," Monday's declaration says. "Cyber-attacks by both state and non-state actors threaten individuals and critical infrastructure with increasing frequency and sophistication. These events have serious adverse effects on international and national security, democratic processes, the global economy, the free flow of ideas and information, and the safety, security and privacy of individuals."

The initiative is part of a broader move by countries in the European Union to bring online activity under a similar legislative framework as activity offline. The EU recently passed a directive making Internet platforms liable for copyright infringement by their users.  

Separately, France is also pushing for European legislation to tax big Internet firms, such as Google and Facebook. Paris hopes to reach agreement on a plan to introduce a 3 percent levy on the digital revenues of online giants at the next meeting of EU finance ministers in December. However, Germany last week suggested changes to the initiative, putting its future in doubt.