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Inaugural eG8 forum sees call for tighter Internet regulation

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In his opening speech at the inaugural eG8 forum in Paris on Tuesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for greater regulation of the Internet.

The new forum sees the leaders of the G8 countries around the same table as big hitteres from the online world, including Google chairman Eric Schmidt, Facebook‘s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Groupon CEO Andrew Mason. The introduction of eG8 demonstrates the growing importance of the Internet economy in the eyes of world leaders.

A Wall Street Journal report highlighted the fact that Sarkozy wasted no time in getting down to business, as he called for the Internet heavyweights “to be responsible and help governments create global governance for issues ranging from copyright to privacy.”

The French president talked of establishing global rules for the Internet, saying that he no longer believed it was possible to implement rules purely on a national level.

However, it’s probable that all the talk of regulation had the likes of Zuckerberg and Bezos shifting uncomfortably in their seats. Google’s Eric Schmidt made it clear that he believed interference by governments will hinder the Internet’s growth. “You want to stay away from regulating brand new industries,” Schmidt warned. “Before we decide we need some regulatory solution to many of these problems, let’s see if there is a technological solution.”

Sarkozy, meanwhile, seemed to want to have it both ways. “You can’t be exempt from minimum rules, which shouldn’t damp your development though,” he told the gathering, who no doubt immediately began pondering the meaning of “minimum.” “Do not forget that it is in the commitment of your companies to contribute fairly to national ecosystems that the sincerity of your promise will be assessed.”

The French president is far from being the only one calling for a closer examination of the laws surrounding the Web. UK Prime Minister David Cameron, for example, only this week suggested that Parliament needed to take a close look at British privacy laws after Twitter users made a mockery of court orders that stop British newspapers, radio stations and TV stations from revealing the names and details of public figures who are alleged to have had affairs.

Resolutions from the eG8 forum will be presented at the G8 summit taking place in Deauville in a few days time. Sarkozy said that he hoped that the first eG8 summit will result in a healthier relationship between governments and online companies.

The WSJ reported that those watching events in Paris believed the discussions at the start of the new forum showed that public and private parties were open to engagement. French entrepreneur Tariq Krim, founder of Netvibes and current CEO of Jolicloud, said, “There are a lot of positives that came out of Mr. Sarkozy’s speech. However, there is clearly a long way to go.”

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Trevor Mogg
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