Senior EU official wants ISPs to safeguard public values

The European Commission's director of digital agenda policy says it's time for the Internet to grow up

A senior European Commission official has said that Internet service providers (ISPs) should be responsible for safeguarding public values.

Robert Madelin, the Commission's Director General for the Information Society, said that "ISPs need to feel more responsible than they do today not just for the enforcement of the law, but also for the preservation of values."

With many civil liberties groups already complaining that asking ISPs to punish their own customers for illegal downloading is a step too far, Madelin's comments will add fuel to the debate. But he was adamant: "For instance, if offensive material that deals with child sexual abuse, is not quite illegal -- sometimes it's borderline -- I think ISPs should devote their resources to getting that stuff taken off their sites very quickly. They should be proactively looking for it. And if you say that, it would be illogical to say that ISPs should have no responsibility in respect of copyright infringement."

He admitted that ISPs should not be asked to play judge and jury and said that any enforcement procedure should be without prejudice.

However the leap from combating child pornography to policing consumer downloads is exactly the sort of mission creep that net neutrality advocates fear.

But Madelin, who is responsible for steering much of the Commission's policy on the digital agenda, was defiant. "We're living in Europe here, not California. I think there is a certain extreme Californian view, as I caricature it, that somehow the Internet is a parallel universe and a libertarian paradise where anything goes because otherwise it's not open and it's not free. I think that is frankly not sustainable. The Internet is not a parallel universe and people when they are surfing it expect the same rights and responsibilities and the degree of safety that they experience in the real world. So I think it's not the thin end of the wedge, it's the internet growing up."

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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