EU Commission Paves the Way for Privatized Net Censorship

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Paris, January 12th, 2012 – In a milestone strategy document on Internet policy, the EU Commission is getting ready to propose new repressive policies. With the upcoming consent vote on the anti-counterfeiting agreement ACTA and the revision of the “Intellectual Property Rights” Directive (IPRED), the controversial censorship schemes currently discussed in the United States will soon arrive in Europe.

On Wednesday, the EU Commission released a communication on the digital single market covering most EU policies related to the Digital Agenda1See http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/e-commerce/communication_2012_en.htm. As this document suggests, the Commission is working on combating illegal gambling websites, which could take the form of censorship measures such as those implemented in France and other Member States2See the consultation on online gambling held last summer: http://www.laquadrature.net/en/respond-to-the-eu-commissions-consultation-on-online-gambling. Hypocritically, and probably to please the banking industry, the Commission does not even consider attacking illegal businesses’ financial streams, which would be an effective way to tackle them. Instead, the Commission paves the way to censorship measures at the core of the network.

In the area of Copyright, the EU Commission sticks to the dangerous notion of “illegal content”, which doesn’t mean anything by itself, except that the network will be programmed for enforcement. It is also pushing for extra-judicial “cooperation” between Internet actors, payment providers and entertainment industries, mirroring the very controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), currently discussed in the US Congress3See page 13 of the communication: “Cooperation between stakeholders, in particular internet providers, rights-holders and payment services, in the European Union and the US, may also help to combat illegal content”..

“In line with ACTA and SOPA in the US, the Commission wants to impose privatized censorship schemes4Upon notification by the entertainment industries, search engines as well as payment providers and advertisers would also be prevented from providing services or contracting with targeted websites, without any judicial decision. As pointed out by law scholar Yochai Benkler, SOPA and PIPA would amount to legalizing the type of censorship techniques used by the US against WikiLeaks, transposing into the civilian domain measures that used to be reserved to counter-terrorism. See: http://benkler.org/WikiLeaks_PROTECT-IP_Benkler.pdf where companies (ISPs, payment processors) would directly ‘cooperate’ with the entertainment industry to censor their services. The EU executive is apparently ready to please a few industries by putting the Internet under control. Citizens must remain watchful and oppose any policy that pays no respect to the right to a fair trial or freedom of expression.”, said Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesperson of the citizen advocacy group La Quadrature du Net.

References   [ + ]

1. See http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/e-commerce/communication_2012_en.htm
2. See the consultation on online gambling held last summer: http://www.laquadrature.net/en/respond-to-the-eu-commissions-consultation-on-online-gambling
3. See page 13 of the communication: “Cooperation between stakeholders, in particular internet providers, rights-holders and payment services, in the European Union and the US, may also help to combat illegal content”.
4. Upon notification by the entertainment industries, search engines as well as payment providers and advertisers would also be prevented from providing services or contracting with targeted websites, without any judicial decision. As pointed out by law scholar Yochai Benkler, SOPA and PIPA would amount to legalizing the type of censorship techniques used by the US against WikiLeaks, transposing into the civilian domain measures that used to be reserved to counter-terrorism. See: http://benkler.org/WikiLeaks_PROTECT-IP_Benkler.pdf