My Take on the State of the Internet in Europe
After yesterday’s crazy guilty verdict for 3 Google execs in the Italian YouTube case, I decided to do a quick-and-dirty recap of the state of Internet censorship in the European countries with the highest rates of Internet access.
Last week German President Horst Kohler signed a law aimed at blocking access to child porn sites. That law was introduced by the previous coalition government. It was very unpopular and the new government doesn’t want to enforce it:
“The German government now finds itself in the embarrassing situation of having a law it no longer wants. Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said Wednesday that the government was unanimous that it would not apply the new law. ‘New regulations will quickly be introduced that correspond to the principle of deleting rather than blocking access,’ she said. The Interior Ministry also said in a statement that the government plans to introduce a new law reflecting the new approach. Until that law is passed, the government’s position is that offensive sites should be deleted, rather than access blocked, the statement said.”
The Internet Watch Foundation is the choke point that “combat[s] online child sexual abuse content in partnership with police, government and the online industry”. The only problem, according to Frank Fisher of The Guardian, is:
“The IWF, a notionally independent charity, in fact acts as a quasi-governmental clearing house for every nutjob with a bee in his bonnet about other people’s surfing habits. Without any legal authority or legislative backing, this secretive group prepares a list of prohibited IP addresses, which it forwards to ISPs, and to the British government. We’re not privy to any information regarding the British government’s own additions to the list – they could add anything. No one outside a tiny department in the Home Office would know.”
A law making its way through the French parliament would, if approved, allow the government to block access to “criminal” Websites. Again, this is all under the guise of fighting child porn. Unlike the UK system, the French Interior Ministry would maintain the list of banned sites.
Did I mention that this is an election year?
“The French government’s hard line should not surprise anyone. In a few weeks’ time, regional elections will take place in France. In the 2004 regional elections, Sarkozy’s UMP party did particularly badly. By showing himself to be a tough leader, Sarkozy hopes to avoid history repeating itself and shore up support for his policies … He is hoping that fear of criminals will convince voters to come to the polling booths. In that respect, there is no more suitable issue than child pornography on the Internet and the hunt for pedophile criminals whose only desire is to seduce innocents via their home computers. According to that argument, it is necessary to impose controls on the digital world and introduce state surveillance, so that a pro-active Big Brother can fight the cyber world’s sexual deviants who are, in all likelihood, lurking on Facebook or Twitter.”
The NY Times reports today that the case may not have been about “protecting human dignity,” as the prosecutor said:
“In Italy, where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi owns most private media [including television stations - ed.] and indirectly controls public media, there is a strong push to regulate the Internet more assertively than it is controlled elsewhere in Europe. Several measures are pending in Parliament here that seek to impose various controls on the Internet. Critics of Mr. Berlusconi say the measures go beyond routine copyright questions and are a way to stave off competition from the Web to public television stations and his own private channels — and to keep a tighter grip on public debate.”