Internet freedom advocates pleased with European Parliament backtrack on porn ban

But worries remain about the possible blocking of protest emails to parliamentarians

Internet freedom advocates celebrated a victory Tuesday after the European Parliament decided against calling for a ban on Internet pornography.

However, in reality such a ban was always unlikely. The report in question was an own-initiative report from the Women's Rights and Gender Equality committee of the Parliament, asking the European Commission to consider drawing up legislation to eliminate gender stereotyping in the European Union, rather than a draft law itself.

But digital rights group EDRi and Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge encouraged civil liberties advocates to lobby members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

The report received approval from the Parliament Tuesday, but not before the controversial parts of the text were dropped. Point 17 originally called for a ban on all forms of pornography in the media (including, according to civil liberties groups, the Internet), but this line was deleted.

"It also struck out the original criminalization of any dissent against the report and the turning of ISPs into thought police," Falkvinge wrote on his blog. "Meanwhile, we should be proud of ourselves as activists to having made noise on the issue. If we had not raised hell, the horrifying points 14 and 19 above would almost have been sure to pass in silence." Point 14 could have been interpreted to include the Internet as covered by the ban, while 19 required ISPs to police content.

But the matter did not end there. Some MEPs complained to the Parliament's IT department that they were being swamped with emails protesting the report. This led to a spam filter that blocked emails containing the words "gender stereotypes." Whether the block was automatically generated or deliberately set up is still unclear.

"I find it completely unacceptable that the Parliament's IT support department deliberately blocks certain emails from genuine citizens wishing to contact their elected representatives, and I find it even more unacceptable that this was done at the request of some individual MEPs. No MEP should have the power of shutting off communication between other MEPs and their constituents using the parliament's technical staff and infrastructure," said Pirate Party MEP, Christian Engström, in a public letter to the Parliament president.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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Jennifer Baker

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