New York Times
The 43-nation Council of Europe is trying to ban racist and hate speech from the
Internet by adding a protocol, or side agreement, to its cybercrime convention, which was
stamped for ratification on Thursday. The convention is scheduled to be formally ratified
at a meeting in Budapest Nov. 23.
The main text of the convention defines as cybercrimes activities like online child
pornography, online fraud and electronic vandalism or hacking, and it sets rules for
signatory nations on how the Internet should be policed. The additional protocol would add
racist Web page content and hate speech over computer networks to the list of cybercrimes,
the Council of Europe, a club of European democracies that aims to protect human rights,
The United States, which is a signatory to the convention, resisted European moves to
include the issue of racist Web sites in the main agreement, because doing so would
conflict with the free-speech protections in the First Amendment.
To keep the disagreement from holding up ratification of the cybercrime convention, the
council decided to cover the issue in a side agreement, which the United States and others
could choose not to sign, said Angus Macdonald, a spokesman for the council.
While the side agreement obliges only the nations that sign it to ban racist Web
content and online hate speech, Mr. Macdonald said, the council hopes that all signatories
of the main convention, including the United States, will respect the protocol, and will
agree to remove such material if it originates within their borders and is aimed at an
audience in another country.
France is thought to be one of the countries that pressed hardest for action by the
council on racist content and hate speech. But one executive of an Internet company said
the protocol would have little effect. It is very unlikely the United States would
cooperate in the way the Council of Europe would want it to by removing Web content
classified as racist by another country's courts. The Justice Department fought hard to
have the racist bits pulled from the cybercrime convention itself. I can't imagine they
will let freedom of speech be curtailed via the backdoor in this way.