France, you do not own the internet

By trying to extend the right to be forgotten beyond its borders, France is interfering with other nations’ sovereignty.

Rather than acting unilaterally, French lawmakers who do not like other nations’ policies should work to establish formal international agreements regarding these policies, such as a universal rule for the right to be forgotten. There are several issues, such as spam or child pornography, where an international consensus has formed that certain materials are bad and should be removed from the internet, resulting in international agreements to curb their distribution. 

However, when a country is unable to convince other nations to sign on to a broad goal, that country should not impose its own values on other nations and should work to limit the impact of its laws and practices to within its own borders. For example, France’s policies should not try to force search engines to delist right-to-be-forgotten links for users outside of its own borders, just as other nations should not attempt to interfere with French domestic policy as it manifests itself online. 

Beyond rules regarding censorship and privacy, how one country approaches internet policy can affect other countries in many areas, including e-commerce, content regulation, intellectual property and cybercrime. And while nations may not agree on goals or values, this does not mean they cannot collaborate to build a global internet system that works well for everyone. But this vision of a global internet will not result from forcing domestic policies on other countries or unfairly putting multinational corporations in the middle of international disputes. 

The French government should not impose the right to be forgotten on the rest of the world, and other nations should stand up to these attempts to unilaterally determine policy for the global internet. But this will only happen if Americans tell their elected officials that they do not want French lawmakers determining what they see online. Moreover, if France fails to gain consensus around this idea, perhaps this is a policy that should best be forgotten. 

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