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Call to outlaw Web racism and hate

STRASBOURG, France -- Supporters of a proposed cyber crime treaty are pressing for it to include passages making it illegal to spread racist propaganda and hate messages over the Internet.

The Council of Europe also called for trafficking in human beings to be declared illegal in the pioneering treaty, which is due to be passed in June in an effort to harmonise laws on cyberspace.

The 43-member council has met unexpected criticism from industry and Internet groups for its efforts to define a common position on hacking, fraud, computer viruses and other Internet abuses.

Internet providers have argued for minimal restrictions while governments have pressed for the treaty to lay down clear rules on how they can fight online crime.

Deputies debating the treaty on Wednesday spoke of their "disappointment that the draft convention contains no specific provision for combating the dissemination of racist and xenophobic propaganda via the Internet."

Speaking for the Parliamentary Assembly deputies, Socialist Ivar Tallo from Estonia urged the council to add a protocol that would outlaw "racist propaganda, abusive storage of hateful messages and use of the Internet for trafficking in human beings."

Growing pressure in Europe to fight racism on the Internet led to a recent French court decision ordering the U.S.-based site Yahoo to remove Nazi memorabilia from its auction pages.

The council has been adjusting the draft in light of criticism from industry and pressure groups since it first published the provisional text on its Web site last year.

At an open hearing with government and industry representatives in Paris last month, a Swiss expert estimated there were about 4,000 openly racist Web sites around the world, 2,500 of them in the United States.

Delegates said the American doctrine of free speech made it difficult to apply European-style restrictions on them and that Internet service providers would oppose any bid to add hate crime restrictions to the treaty.

The U.S., Japan and several other non-European countries are observers to the treaty drafting and are expected to sign it once it is approved by the council.

Drafted over four years by representatives of the 43-nation council, the convention covers the destruction of data or hardware -- such as the damage caused by the devastating Love Bug virus -- as well as online child pornography, copyright theft and other Internet crimes.

The treaty, now in its 25th draft, with previous versions attacked by those who worry the treaty could give governments too much power to crack down on Internet users' freedom while hunting for cyber criminals.



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RELATED SITES:
Council of Europe
Cybercrime on the Internet

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