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Europe

Europe Considers Measure to Punish Aiding Internet Censorship

Some European Parliament members want to punish Internet providers that collude with governments to censor or police the Web. But Europe's top media regulator said she's not convinced by the plan.

People at an Internet cafe in China

Internet censorship is rampant in countries like China

China and other totalitarian countries should not be able to count on European companies aiding their efforts to control and censor information published on the Internet, according to a group of European Parliament members. They feel that promoting freedom on the Web is an important human rights issue.

The parliamentarians have proposed legislation that would punish companies which limit Internet freedom abroad. The United States has proposed similar legislation with the so-called Global Online Freedom Act which is still being debated in Congress.

Yet one high-ranking European official said she is skeptical about the proposal.

"Should the EU have specific legislation on Internet freedom? I am not convinced so far that hard law is the best way to deal with the challenge," EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media Viviane Reding told a meeting in the European Parliament this week.

Criticism of China

Protests in Germany for Chinese journalist Shi Tao, who was arrested for writing an e-mail about censorship

An e-mail landed Chinese journalist Shi Tao in jail

The communist government in China is seen as a major culprit in restricting online content.

Yahoo has come under fire for allegedly handing over e-mail of Chinese dissidents to the government, which has resulted in dissidents being arrested and imprisoned.

Microsoft has also been criticized for blocking words like "freedom" and "democracy" from Chinese blogs. The search engine Google has allegedly agreed to not list news sites banned by the Chinese government.

Parliamentarians who support the measure have proposed imposing export controls as well as civil and criminal penalties on companies that participate in censorship. They have also called for the EU to create a body which would ensure that European Internet companies operating abroad were following the regulations.

Reding called such proposals "heavy."

Europe considers anti-censorship software

"I believe that we should not put European companies in an invidious position where their choice appears to be to break the law or leave the market to more unscrupulous operators," Reding said.

"Rather, our goal should be to find ways to allow operators and service providers to respect human rights without doing either."

But Reding did welcome a suggestion that EU money be used to develop anti-censorship software.

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