European Parliament considers Web blocking

An EU parliamentary committee prepares its position on mandatory blocking of child porn websites

Members of the European Parliament Monday prepared their position on whether mandatory E.U.-wide Web blocking of certain sites should be introduced, prompting concern from digital rights groups.

The Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee examined a report that looks at the viability of blocking websites that distribute child pornography. Their opinion will put to a vote by the whole Parliament at the beginning of February.

The report, prepared by Italian Member of Parliament Roberta Angelilli, proposes that blocking should be left up to national authorities (the current status quo), however digital rights groups are concerned that some parliamentarians will propose mandatory blocking, something both the European Commission and Council broadly favor.

The text adopted by the European Council states that member states should take the appropriate measures to remove Web pages containing or disseminating child pornography, including "non-legislative measures."

"The blocking of access shall be subject to adequate safeguards, in particular to ensure that the blocking is limited to what is necessary, that users are informed of the reasons for the blocking and that content providers, as far as possible, are informed of the possibility of challenging it," it continues.

European Digital Rights (EDRi) has hit out at this approach saying that such blocking warns suspected criminals that their activities have been spotted. "It is incredible that having been accused of running a website containing images of gross violations of children, the suggestion is a polite notice to the alleged criminal that s/he may wish to complain," said the organization's Joe McNamee. "It seems the priority is not to identify the children, not to investigate the criminals, but to avoid inadvertent public access -- even though blocking has never been shown to have an impact on this. This is a purely cosmetic measure that does not tackle the real problem, but allows authorities to claim they are doing something by passing the buck to Internet providers."

According to EDRi, the European Commission's own 2007 Impact Assessment on Terrorism opposed blocking because the websites move around too much. The Canadian child abuse hotline observed a child abuse website move 121 times in 48 hours.

In addition to its counterproductive impact on child protection, the danger of "mission cree" is the main issue that opponents of Web-blocking identify. "Countries that introduce Web-blocking to target child abuse today, will block to protect gambling monopolies tomorrow and politically unwelcome websites the day after tomorrow," said McNamee. "We see this already in France," he added.

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