French judge tells Yahoo! to block Nazi auctions

PARIS, Nov. 21 (JTA) – France has struck a blow against the claims that the Internet has no frontiers.

A Paris judge reaffirmed an earlier ruling that the U.S. Internet portal Yahoo! must prevent access in France to auctions in which Nazi memorabilia are available for purchase.

The ruling, while expected, strengthens the growing movement to set laws and limits to what goes on over the Internet, particularly when it comes to the spread of hate-based information and materials.

Basing his decision on the French law against racial hatred incitement, Judge Jean-Jacques Gomez, singled out Yahoo! as “an offense to the collective memory.”

Yahoo! has three months to install a filter that would prevent access to the Nazi items, after which it will be fined $13,000 each day that it does not comply.

Gomez had already ruled last May against Yahoo! in the case.

Lawyers for the Internet portal said they might appeal the decision.

A brief scan of Yahoo’s auctions reveals thousands of items for sale, including hundreds of swastikas, Nazi flags and Hitler Youth knives – most of which are estimated to be forgeries or fakes.

The president of the Union of French Jewish Students, one of two groups that brought Yahoo! to court, promised such a ruling was “only the beginning” in standing up against hate activities on the Web.

“The Internet must be responsible to morality,” said Yigal El Harrar. “It should have the same standard as newspapers and television.”

Noting that the overwhelming majority of students in Europe and America are connected to the Internet, El Harrar is confident that further action will be taken against hate on the Internet.

“We are the inheritors of the Internet and the inheritors of the memory of the Shoah and we have the power to prevent the banalization of the Holocaust through technology. This is going to be a strong youth movement.”

In the United States, the Anti-Defamation League has long been monitoring the dispersal of Nazi materials and hate speech across the Internet.

The ADL offers a filter that blocks access to pre-identified hate Web sites, but it is not designed to block access to auction sites such as Yahoo! and eBay where Nazi items.

Lawyers for Yahoo! argued that it would be impossible to prevent people in one country from accessing certain Web pages.

But Gomez disagreed after he allowed a committee of Internet specialists to investigate whether technology existed to determine the location of an individual Internet user and block him or her from certain areas.

The committee found last month that in 90 percent of the cases, it is possible to do so.

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