Civil libertarians slam EU Internet filtering considerations | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 03.05.2011
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Civil libertarians slam EU Internet filtering considerations

A possible plan by the EU published this week to create a 'single secure European cyberspace' by blocking 'illicit content' has come under attack by civil liberties groups who say it would lead to censorship.

computer and censorship symbolic picture

Rights groups fear any EU filtering would lead to censorship

Considerations by the European Union to create a more "secure European cyberspace" by requiring ISPs to block "illicit content" have come under attack from anti-censorship groups, who compare the plan to China's system for controlling citizen's online access.

"It's a bad idea, opening the floodgates to a lot of restrictions on what people can and cannot see on the Internet," said Jim Killock, executive director of the UK-based Open Rights Group, told Deutsche Welle. "It's very disturbing."

The plans were discussed during a meeting held in February of the Law Enforcement Working Party (LEWP) of the Council of the European Union, the EU's central legislative and decision-making body. Details of this meeting were recently revealed online.

The LEWP is a forum for cooperation on issues like counterterrorism, customs and fraud.

The closed meeting was held in February but the issue only gained attention after the minutes were published online this week.

The one-paragraph entry in the meeting minutes said the LEWP proposed creating a "single secure European cyberspace," thereby creating a "virtual Schengen border." The goal would be to block "illicit contents" on the basis of an EU black list.

Chinese at computers

Some fear erecting a Great Firewall of Europe similar to China's

Open to abuse?

No detail into what might be considered "illicit" was given nor how such regulations would be enforced, which worry rights groups.

"It's impractical, from a technological side, and it's likely to create market barriers, not to mention censorship and all sorts of civil liberties abuses," said Killock. "It sets a bad example for the rest of the world."

He compared it to China's heavy-handed approach to restricting what its citizens can view online.

"It erects a great firewall of Europe, in essence," he said.

In addition, from a technical side, filtering systems have proven very porous and easy to circumvent.

The European Union said that while a possible filtering system was discussed at the February meeting chaired by the Hungarians, who currently hold the EU presidency, many people in Brussels were unaware of the discussions, nor has there been any follow-up document or activity on the matter.

"In my opinion, it's a dead child," an EU diplomat told Deutsche Welle on the condition of anonymity.

Internet censorship book

Despite blockages, there are techniques to circumvent censorship

Already blocking

Internet filtering discussions are not new in Europe, and some countries, such as Finland, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, have moved to block domains that feature content like child pornography and file-sharing sites.

"Many member states think that the biggest problem of blocking is that it's not effective," Ivan Koedjikov, head of the Department of Information Society and Action against Crime at the Council of Europe, told Deutsche Welle. "This would create a false sense of security related to criminal offenses."

He said he would like to see public-private partnerships between governments and ISPs, which would work together when it comes to illegal sites, which are outlined in the council's Convention on Cybercrime to include child pornography and offenses related to copyright infringement.

"The Internet is a public place, like a public square, the TV or radio, and should be subject to norms and regulations and not become a free-for-all," he said.

While child pornography will find few public advocates, there are concerns that a filtering system could be subject to "mission creep," meaning legal content could end up on a "black list" and be filtered as well.

Author: Kyle James
Editor: Cyrus Farivar

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