In an attempt to eliminate the illegal downloading of multimedia products, French minister Christine Albanel is introducing a law that might make it possible to punish a culprit by depriving him/her of the right to use the Internet. That eye-for-an-eye vision of justice brings to mind the suggestion, not so long ago, that delinquents who burn automobiles shouldn't be allowed to obtain a driver's license.
Now, Europeans have the privilege of being protected by a Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Here's Article 11 of this charter, concerning the freedom of expression and information:
In the case of a delinquent condemned, say, for vandalizing mailboxes, would it be possible in France to prohibit him from sending or receiving letters? If a man were caught urinating into a river that supplied water to a township, would it be possible to prohibit him from drinking tap water? As Marie-Antoinette might exclaim: "The fellow's unable to drink tap water? Then let him quench his thirst with champagne!"
BREAKING NEWS: The above-mentioned law, aiming to protect the rights of multimedia creators, entails the constitution of a so-called supreme authority in this domain, to be known by an ugly acronym: Hadopi. Members of the parliamentary opposition criticized, for diverse more or less sound reasons, the existence of such a body. Reacting to this perfectly normal criticism, Christine Albanel made an astonishing declaration: "It's particularly ridiculous to use a nasty caricature, which presents that body, composed of magistrates, as a kind of branch of the Gestapo." Opposition parliamentarians were flabbergasted. There's one thing that serious individuals never do in France, particularly when they happen to be elected representatives of the people. People never make superficial allusions to things that characterized the terrible Nazi epoch. You never compare anybody, today, to Hitler or his henchmen. And you never say that a respectable organization brings to mind the SS or the Gestapo. Back in the boisterous environment of May 1968, it's true that the intense animosity between demonstrators and riot police was expressed in the following poster, which plastered the walls of Paris:
But today, in serious circles, people don't usually evoke the Gestapo in a light-hearted fashion. No French parliamentarian in his right mind would ever liken an organization, of which Nicolas Sarkozy is a member, to a branch of the Gestapo.
The pen of this intelligent and sympathetic woman, who happens to be a ministerial successor to the great André Malraux, was austerely elegant and moving when she wrote the words of Jacques Chirac's speech in 1995, recognizing France's responsibility in the deportation of the Jews. A year later, once again, she worked splendidly as a speechwriter for Chirac when he pronounced a homage to François Mitterrand. Today, stupidly and uncharacteristically, Christine Albanel has put her foot in her mouth. And I believe that the best thing she could possibly do would be to apologize.