A fair Internet for all?
This article is also available in:
Deutsch: Ein gerechtes Internet für alle?
On 1 December 2011, the European Parliament's European People's Party (EPP) group presented their strategy paper "A fair Internet for all - Strengthening Our Citizens' Rights and Securing a Fair Business Environment in the Internet". In this webstreamed hearing, the MEPs discussed the main issues of the paper such as net and "search" neutrality, social networks, online behavioural advertising, anonymity of users, cloud computing and intellectual property rights. This was followed by an exchange of views with Google, Facebook and Microsoft and the German Federal data protection commission - who are, ostensibly "the" stakeholders in European Internet regulation. Unfortunately, the EPP did not invite any civil society representatives.
The strategy paper acknowledges that the Internet has created a new world of possibilities and is an essential tool for communication, innovation, and economic growth. It contains many positive elements such as a very strong chapter on Net neutrality. The EPP group recognises that a neutral and open free Internet represents guiding principle which must be preserved as a policy objective. The group therefore urges the Commission to adopt further measures to guarantee Net neutrality. Furthermore, the text defends privacy by design, strong data protection rules in general and the need for better harmonisation in order to avoid forum shopping. European standards should be applied by companies where data is collected within the EU and transferred to third countries.
While being a solid document overall, there is also some lack of coherence on certain points. In section 3. a of its strategy paper, the EPP suggests to further explore a "modification of the liability regime for intermediaries". However, the EPP (and the European Parliament as a whole) has already given its consent to the Free Trade Agreement with South Korea in 2010, which basically copies the articles on intermediary liability of the E-Commerce Directive into the Agreement and binds the European Union with regard to the intermediary liability regime. Furthermore, this proposal contradicts the EPP's principled position on net neutrality, which strongly speaks in favour of the defence of the neutral role of Internet intermediaries.
The EPP also adopts a very good position on profiling, stating that such practices should be prohibited, but unfortunately has also given its consent to agreements that allow profiling and data mining, such as the passenger name record (PNR) agreements with third countries, for instance the EU-Australia agreement.
Hidden in its very last section on quality journalism online, the EPP's paper introduces ancillary copyright provisions. It should be noted that in September 2011, the German government announced to be in the process of preparing a draft legislative proposal for ancillary copyright provisions. This push for ancillary copyright provisions on a European level has already been demanded by German chancellor Angela Merkel. However, ancillary copyright provisions have already been harshly criticised by civil rights groups, such as the initiative IGEL, stating that such provision would limit the freedom of communication. The introduction of new copyright provisions seems indeed unnecessary since publishers are already protected by copyright provisions and get usually extensive rights by journalists through contracts or general terms and conditions.
Overall, the EPP's strategy paper contains many good points and its adoption should help facilitate discussions on the contradictions between principles and practice that it has brought to light.
EPP Strategy Paper "Fair, Open and Secure Internet" (1.12.2011)
Video - EPP presents its strategy paper (1.12.2011)
Initiative IGEL against ancillary copyright provisions (only in German)
(Contribution by Kirsten Fiedler - EDRi)