Blocks emails from EU citizens protesting against censorship.

Glyn Moody
March 7, 2013

A few weeks ago we wrote about Iceland’s thoroughly daft idea of trying to block porn there. Bad proposals for the Internet always seem to spread, and so it should perhaps come as no surprise that the European Parliament will be considering a similarly unworkable proposal, but in a rather more covert way, as the Pirate Party politician Christian Engström noted on his blog:

Next week in Strasbourg, probably on Tuesday, the European Parliament will be voting on a Report on eliminating gender stereotypes in the EU. To promote gender equality and eliminating gender stereotypes are of course very laudable goals, so my guess would be that unless something happens, the report will be approved by the parliament, possibly by a very large majority.

That would be a good thing, were it not for the following detail:

Article 17 of the report says (with emphasis added):

17. Calls on the EU and its Member States to take concrete action on its resolution of 16 September 1997 on discrimination against women in advertising, which called for a ban on all forms of pornography in the media and on the advertising of sex tourism;

There’s no definition of “the media”, but it’s hard to believe that the digital world would somehow be exempt. Of course, banning pornography in this way simply won’t work, but it will cause huge collateral damage to freedom of speech online in the EU. As if that weren’t bad enough, the way the report wants this put into effect is deeply problematic too:

the resolution we will be voting on next week has other things to say about the internet. Article 14 reads (again with my highlighting):

14. Points out that a policy to eliminate stereotypes in the media will of necessity involve action in the digital field; considers that this requires the launching of initiatives coordinated at EU level with a view to developing a genuine culture of equality on the internet; calls on the Commission to draw up in partnership with the parties concerned a charter to which all internet operators will be invited to adhere;

This is quite clearly yet another attempt to get the internet service providers to start policing what citizens do on the internet, not by legislation, but by “self-regulation”. This is something we have seen before in a number of different proposals, and which is one of the big threats against information freedom in our society.

This is another example of “voluntary” measures that will in fact by compulsory, since any ISP that refuses to implement them will doubtless find itself responsible instead. As we’ve noted before, this allows all kinds of dangerous ideas to be implemented in ways that are not subject to judicial review or even challenge.

It’s important to note that this is not a law as such, but a report, as Engström explains:

This means that it does not automatically become law even if it is adopted, but is just a way for the European parliament to express its opinion.

But the purpose of these own initiative reports are to serve as the basis for the Commission when it decides to present legislative proposals to the parliament. If this own initiative report is adopted by the parliament, it will strengthen the Commission’s position if and when it wants to propose various”self-regulation” schemes in the future.

Equally, if the report is defeated next week, it will weaken later attempts by the Commission to bring in self-regulation. Recognising this, people like Rick Falkvinge have been asking Europeans to write to their representatives to urge them to reject the report, as Techdirt user rudeholm pointed out. But as Engström now reports, emails on these censorship plans are being blocked by the European Parliament’s tech department:

around noon, these mails suddenly stopped arriving. When we started investigating why this happened so suddenly, we soon found out:

The IT department of the European Parliament is blocking the delivery of the emails on this issue, after some members of the parliament complained about getting emails from citizens.

This is exactly what happened with ACTA, when the Parliamentary authorities decided that all emails on the subject would go straight into the spam folder. It’s extraordinary to see how quickly politicians forget that hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to defend their online rights back then, and how unceremoniously dumping their emails in the spam folder only made things worse.

Discussions have been taking place on Twitter around the hashtag #mepblock (disclosure: I’ve been part of these), and an e-petition has been created, calling on European politicians to drop their censorship and to listen to their constituents as they are supposed to, instead of just ignoring them. There are still a few days before the vote next week, so there’s plenty of time for further developments in what looks like becoming an increasingly heated debate.

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