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Spanish Presidency leading Europe towards Digital Inquisition?

Paris, February 25th 2010 - A disturbing document on Internet policy written by the Spanish Presidency of the EU Council has been published. While asking Member States to detail their guidelines for the repression of illegal activities on the Internet, the Presidency amalgamates child pornography, xenophobic and racist speech and copyright infringement.

Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition!

Elaborating on this unacceptable confusion, the document goes as far as saying that "the Internet becomes an instrument of social regression". Such a ruthless instrumentalisation of fear in order to impose regressive policies - like the filtering of content on the Internet - is not tolerable in the European Union.

These questions (see below) are clearly oriented to justify the imposition of Internet filtering and blocking and its extension to a growing number of areas. While being an uneffective enforcement tool, these measures affect the decentralized architecture of the Internet and violate the principle of Net neutrality. They also open the door to censorship, given that the enforcement of traditional limitations to freedom of expression through Net filtering exposes Internet users to the collateral blocking of "innocent" websites (overblocking).

"Such a reactionary instrumentalization of fear by the Spanish presidency is not tolerable. Our modern societies must consider Internet as a public space for cultural, economic and social progress, not a fantasized far-west where no rule apply. Citizens who love their freedoms and the Internet are endangered by this securitarian plan to control the networked public sphere. Citizens of Europe, especially in Spain, must follow the lead of the Red Sostenible Initiative1 and oppose this extremist and dangerous vision", says Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesperson and co-founder of La Quadrature du Net.

Questions asked by the Spanish Presidency to Member States

1. How do you combat child pornography, the infringement of intellectual property rights, and racist and xenophobic content on the Internet in your country? Are you able to block access to websites with this type of content in your country?
2. What do you think should be done to combat this type of activity at European Union level?
3. How can we combat this type of content from servers broadcasting from States outside the European Union?

In order to be compatible with the democratic principles of the European Union, answers should point out that:

  • Blocking and filtering measures are uneffective, since they can easily be circumvented. Moreover, studies show that all methods lead to overblocking, ie. disabling access to perfectly legitimate websites thus endangering the freedom of expression and communication of Internet users.
  • Rather than filtering, the only effective solution when fighting against crime online is to have content removed from the servers2.
  • To guarantee the rule of Law on the Internet, the European Union should refuse to bypass judicial processes. Only a judge should be able to declare a given content or activity to be illegal.
  • To enforce statutes and ensure the effectivity of judicial rulings while preserving the free and open nature of the Internet, the EU should enhance international cooperation on these issues.