In the wake of what France has experienced in the last weeks, a series of execution-style murders carried out by an Islamic extremist who was ultimately killed by police during a stand-off yesterday, French president Nicholas Sarkozy is calling for a new law that would allow the nation to jail repeat visitors to extremist Web sites.
It's only one of several strict measures being promoted after Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent, allegedly murdered three French paratroopers, three Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi before being killed by police.
“Anyone who regularly consults Internet sites which promote terror or hatred or violence will be sentenced to prison,” Sarkozy said at a campaign rally in Strasbourg. “Don't tell me it's not possible. What is possible for pedophiles should be possible for trainee terrorists and their supporters, too.” (France has strict anti-pedophilia laws that can jail and heavily fine repeat visitors to child pornography Web sites.)
Journalists and some lawyers have expressed dismay to the proposed rule, worried about an erosion of free speech laws. They have wondered out loud whether Sarkozy is serious or just campaigning, since he is up for re-election this year, the Associated Press (News - Alert) is reporting.
“Trying to criminalize a visit — a simple visit — to a Web site, that's something that seems disproportionate,” said Lucie Morillon, head of the new media bureau of journalists' watchdog group Reporters Without Borders. “What's especially worrying for us is how you are going to know who's looking at what site. Does this announcement mean the installation of a global Internet surveillance system in France?”