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  • Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikimedia Foundation.

    Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikimedia Foundation. | Photo: Reuters

Published 11 June 2016

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales warned the French government was seeking to extend the EU Privacy Law to crackdown on internet freedom on a global level.

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has said an attempt by France to give an online privacy ruling global force is opening up a "disastrous can of worms" and could spur global censorship.

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Google appealed last month against an order from the French data protection authority to remove certain web search results globally.

"One of the most disturbing things is the regulators in France have demanded that Google hide things globally, not just within the borders of France," Wales told Reuters late on Thursday on the sidelines of the Brilliant Minds conference in Stockholm.

"That's just opening a disastrous can of worms, because then it becomes a ridiculous race to the bottom, where the Internet is censored by the most restrictive jurisdictions."

A 2014 ruling by the European Court of Justice allowed people to ask the likes of Google or Microsoft's Bing to remove inadequate or irrelevant information from web results brought up by searching for their name. The measure, known as the "right to be forgotten", has pitted privacy campaigners against defenders of free speech.

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Google complied with France's request, but it scrubbed results only across its European websites, arguing that to go further would set a dangerous precedent on the territorial reach of national laws. Wales said Wikipedia was also working to adhere to the legislation.

The French data protection authority argues that a person’s right to privacy should not depend on where an online search is made, and counters allegations of censorship by noting that the links in question, hidden when a person's name is searched for directly, can still be found by searching in different ways.

Wales said his staff at the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit organization that runs the online encyclopedia, assembled and written by Internet users around the world, were spending more and more time dealing with national regulations on the Internet. "We've all become somehow kind of amateur lawyers on things like copyright."

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