Experts To Probe Yahoo! Nazi Auctions

A French court has asked a panel of Internet security experts to find a way to bar Internet users in France from accessing Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) auctions of Nazi memorabilia.

Judge Jean-Jacques Gomez of the Paris Tribunal de Grande Instance gave the three experts two months to come up with a means to block the U.S.-based Web auctions, which violate French law.

Throughout the court case, which was brought by the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA), the Movement Against Racism (MRAP) and the Union of French Law Students (UEFJ), Yahoo! has argued that it is not technically able to filter out French Web surfers from its auction site.

Following the court’s ruling, however, attorneys for Yahoo! told reporters that they would work with the panel toward any possible solution.

“Yahoo! supports the overall mission of the LICRA and UEJF and does not endorse anti-Semitism or racism of any sort,” said Yahoo! senior vice president Heather Killen. “We are open to discussing and working together with these groups, plus others within the Internet industry, to help find common solutions for these and other issues.”

Who Will Pay?

The court ordered Yahoo! Inc. and Yahoo! France to pay two-fifths of the costs of the investigation, with the three plaintiffs paying the remaining three-fifths. UEFJ officials have reportedly expressed concern about their ability to pay the expert fees.

The experts have been asked to report back to the court on November 6th.

In the suit, LICRA and UEFJ complained that Yahoo’s auctioning of over 1,200 Nazi-related items amounted to a “banalizing of Nazism.” Both sought to enjoin the English-language auction sales from appearing in France.

The Nazi items offered for sale on the site include everything from Nazi flags and uniforms to belt buckles and medals.

Border Lines

The sale of the Nazi items is legal in the United States because it is protected by the “freedom of expression” mandates of the Constitution. French law, however, prohibits the sale or exhibition of objects with racist overtones, so the Nazi items do not appear on the French Yahoo! site. However, visitors to the French site can click into the English-language Yahoo! site where the Nazi objects are available.

Judge Gomez ruled earlier that Yahoo!’s display of Nazi artifacts in France violated the law and was “an offense against the collective memory of a country profoundly wounded by the atrocities committed by and in the name of the Nazi criminal enterprise.”

Weighing Options

Killen said that though Yahoo! “does its best to comply with the laws in each of the countries where [it] does business through [its] local Yahoo! sites,” other matters are also at stake.

“This case opens up broader issues on Internet jurisdiction — whether one country has the jurisdiction to regulate the content of Web sites in another country — that should be discussed and addressed by representatives of governments and the Internet industry around the world,” Killen said.

Whether it is possible to implement technology that will block French access to the U.S. Yahoo! site remains to be seen. Independent Internet security experts have noted that such filtering is almost impossible because PC dialing numbers used to identify the Internet user can be disguised or even misread.

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