thoughts and observations of a privacy, security and internet researcher, activist, and policy advisor

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I try a dialogue with EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmström on Internet Filtering

The EU Home Affairs Commissioner and former Swedish Minister for Europe, Cecilia Malmström, has yesterday presented the "Proposal for a DIRECTIVE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL on combating the sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, repealing Framework Decision 2004/68/JHA". This includes a paragraph that would require member states to set up mechanisms for filtering out websites with such material.

We have had the exact same debate with - it seems so far - the exact same arguments on sexual abuse websites in Germany last year, and it took us 134.000 signatories under an e-petition to the parliament as well as 2% for the Pirates in the German election to finally get listened to. Now, with the new German government, the blocking law is still officially in force, but will not be applied. So much for the backgrund and why internet liberty people from Germany are furious that this comes back from Brussels now.

There are several reasons why blocking is a really bad idea. A good summary of the arguments is here. Other arguments and facts, provided by a group of victims of child abuse, are here. EDRi recently sent an open letter on this to Cecilia Malmström and her colleagues for Justice, Viviane Reding, and for the Information Society, Nellie Kroes. Reding herself is against the blocking proposal and has been fighting internally with Malmström. Joe McNamee from EDRi has some background info here.

The twitterverse has already come up with a nickname for Cecilia Malmström: #Censilia, and internet and civil liberties activists are busy networking across borders now. I thought I try the direct way and leave a comment in Mrs. Malmström's blog. Here is a copy:

Dear Mrs. Malmström,

I'd be interested in hearing how your former boss, prime minister Reinfeldt, can go to China with a straight face and tell them that unfiltered internet is important for human rights and democracy, as he did according to news reports yesterday. The Chinese government has already used the filtering infrastructure in place in a few Western countries as an excuse for their own "Green Dam" censorship system.

You can again reply "But we will only filter child abuse". Two of the many problems are: The filtering lists have to be secret by definition. So how can concerned citizens be sure that nothing else ends up on these lists? And how can you be sure that the next government is also run by people who only have best intentions?

Karl Popper wrote wisely on the open society: We have to build our political institutions in a way that neither evil nor incompetent rulers can do too much harm. The same principle now has to be applied to our technological infrastructures. This is why people are so concerned about your proposal - not because they think you or the current European governments are evil (well... maybe except for the Italian one), but because of the inherent risks such technologies of information control create.

On a more empirical note: The Danish filtering list from 2008/2009, according to the German Federal Criminal Police Agency, has websites from these countries blocked:

USA: 1148
Germany: 199
Netherlands: 79
Canada: 57
Russia: 27
Japan: 20
Korea: 19
Czech Republic: 15
UK: 14

Maybe you should mention this to the US secretaries of Justice and Home Affairs when you next talk to them about access to European SWIFT and PNR data - before you start setting up a dangerous technology in Europe.

Best regards, Ralf Bendrath


Anonymous Steven McClain said...

Could be worse, they could simply shut down the whole internet when times (demonstrations) get tough as they did in Eygpt recently

10/2/11 11:56


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