Stop(ped) web blocking
On Monday evening, 14 February 2011, the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament held its first crucial vote on whether mandatory EU-wide web blocking should be introduced.
The battle now moves to the negotiations with the Council.
The Compromise that was adopted can be found at http://www.edri.org/files/14_feb_blocking_compromises.pdf
Now there will be negotiations between the Council and Parliament to agree a final text. The starting position is a unified position of the Parliament and a nonsense text from the Council (thank you, Belgian presidency). There is still a long way to go, but this is an excellent position to be in.
The Parliament committee rejected mandatory blocking, rejected blocking via "self-regulation", rejected blocking via "non-legislative" means and added new safeguards when Member States do decide to block. Unfortunately, Member States will not be explicitly required to have judicial authorisation to block specific sites, if they do decide to block, so the Parliament text is not perfect, but infinitely better than the Commission's original proposal for lawless and mandatory blocking.
Update 19:15 (Feb 14): The meeting has started. The vote should take place sometime before 22.00. It is not being live streamed for some reason. Watch this space!
Update 14:46 (Feb 14): New corrected voting list has been circulated. FEMM66 will not be voted if COMP8 is adopted.
If you want to lobby on this (before 19h, when the meeting starts), you can either support COMP8 (if you accept the compromise without the obligation of judicial authorisation when Member States decide to block) and the amendments listed below OR, if you don't accept COMP8, you can just support the text below.
Update 13.33 (Feb 14): Unofficially, the Committee secretariat has accepted our analysis that the Women's Rights Committee text is incompatible with the compromise.
Activists are still encouraged to call MEPs to support the imperfect compromise and to warn of the dangers of the Women's Rights Committee text (see below).
For information, the Women's Rights Committee text says: "2a. Member States shall take the necessary measures to increase the liability of internet service providers and owners of domains so that they deny access to child pornography websites of which they are aware."
In the Angelilli Report on Child Exploitation, a compromise has been agreed between most political groups on the difficult issue of web blocking. This is amendment is on Article 21.1, 21.2, 21.2a and 21.2b.
Unfortunately, the amendment of the Women's Rights Committee (FEMM) on the subject of blocking creates a new Article 21.2a. Therefore, despite completely contradicting the compromise amendment, the current voting list says that it will not fall if the compromise is adopted.
It is therefore essential for the Parliament to reject the FEMM 66 amendment. The alternative is to start negotiations with the Council with a confused and contradictory text. This will delay the discussions and undermine the Parliament's position.
Compromise 8 contains the following provisions:
a) Remove the obligation for mandatory blocking.
b) Remove references to “non-legislative” approaches to blocking.
c) Insert additional safeguards for countries which wish to introduce blocking.
The FEMM 66 Amendment:
a) Places an obligation on Member States to increase liability of private companies (internet providers) to a level that would force them to block.
b) Adopts an approach which would have internet providers introduce blocking via “non-legislative” means
c) Removes all of the safeguards (because this would be non-legislative) agreed in the compromise text.
Breaking news - update 11 February The problem regarding recital 13 (described below) appears to be solved. A number of political groups have accepted the text prepared by EDRi, which was communicated to all political groups and tabled by the Green Group (thank you Jean Lambert MEP and Jan Albrecht MEP!) That group represents a large majority of MEPs in the Civil Liberties Committee and therefore appears likely to be adopted.
The only remaining problem is the ambiguity and meaninglessness of "prior authorisation" for blocking in EU Member States. The Green Group will seek to table an "oral amendment" at the time of the vote. This amendment would seek to change the final text to "prior judicial authorisation".
Your task now is to call and tell MEPs that you support the Green oral amendment for "prior judicial authorisation.
There appears to be widespread agreement in the Committee to reject mandatory web blocking - a huge success for activists all over Europe, if the vote goes our way! However, the conditions being imposed in cases where Member States do decide to block are badly drafted, incoherent and liable to be manipulated by Member States to permit the the rule of law to be undermined.
What can you do? Call some MEPs. Get a random list from http://wakeupcall.qb352.de/ (only call MEPs listed as libe_committee_member or libe_committee_substitute - the column on the right of the screen, and don't call GUE or GREEN MEPs as they are already on board)
Call the Brussels number until lunchtime on Friday 11 February and the Strasbourg on Monday 14th from noon until 7pm
There are two key problems, Article 21 of the Directive and Recital (Erwaegungsgrund in German / Considérant in French) 13.
Article 21 Draft text is at: http://www.edri.org/files/article21.pdf (ignore the highlighting).
It says that blocking shall be subject to "prior authorisation". This basically means that someoneshould decide what is put on any blocking list. As magical automatic blocking lists have not been invented yet, this wording:
a: Risks being deliberately misunderstood as not requiring a judicial decision and; b. Undermines the credibility of the Parliament because it makes no sense.
Solution: Add "judicial" before "authorisation".
Recital 13 http://www.edri.org/files/recital13_2_.pdf The core problem is the following wording
"These measures preventing access to internet pages containing or disseminating child pornography or child abuse material should be subject to strengthened cooperation between public authorities, particularly in the interest of ensuring that national lists of websites containing child pornography or child abuse material are as complete as possible and of avoiding duplication of work.
Problem: It is inconsistent to remove the obligation to block from Article 21 and then add a statement that work to build blocking lists should be strengthened.
Solution: Support proposed compromise which would replace that wording with "There should be strengthened cooperation between public authorities, particularly in the interest of ensuring that information regarding websites containing child pornography or child abuse material are is as complete as possible and to avoid duplication of work."
YOU: "Hello, I would like to talk to Ms/Mr MEP, please about the Angelilli report on child sexual exploitation."
Assistant: "Ms/Mr MEP is not available, I am her/his assistant. Can I help you?"
YOU: "I am MyName, calling from MyCountry, I am very concerned about some problems with the compromise amendments on Article 21 and Recital 13"
Assistant: "It is too late to change anything now"
YOU: "It would be very unfortunate if the Parliament would adopt a meaningless text like "prior authorisation" in Article 21" and/or "It is incoherent for Article 21 to remove the obligation to block websites and for Recital 13 to then say that there should be strengthened cooperation on creation of what are, in essence, blocking lists".
Assistant: "What do you suggest"
YOU: "For Article 21, simply support any measures you can to add the word "judicial" before "authorisation. For recital 13, support the Green compromise".
Archived versions of this article below---- See also the campaign from Dutch organisation Bits of Freedom.
In the beginning of February, the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament will hold its first crucial vote on whether mandatory EU-wide web blocking should be introduced. The time for action to stop web blocking is now.
In the Parliament, the Parliamentarian in charge of the dossier (Roberta Angelilli) has published her draft report.
Draft report: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//NONSGML+CO...
Roberta Angelilli's profile on La Quadrature: http://www.laquadrature.net/wiki/RobertaAngelilli
She proposes that blocking should be left up to Member States - which is essentially what happens already. This is very good news. However, it is very likely that some MEPs will table amendments proposing mandatory blocking, so this battle is far from won.
Also, the Commission and Council are broadly in favour of blocking, so it is crucial for negotiations between the institutions that the Parliament's text is as strong as possible and gains as much support as possible.
It is also crucial that it includes text reaffirming the obligation in the European Convention on Human Rights that restrictions on communication must be based on law (rather than informal agreements) - otherwise the Commission will continue to fund "self-regulatory" blocking systems outside the rule of law and outside democratic scrutiny.
The timetable in the Parliament is:
Presentation of draft report: 10 January
Deadline for amendments: 20 January
"Orientation vote": 14 February.
The orientation vote will assess where there are clear majorities in the Committee for specific amendments and where further work is needed to find appropriate compromises.
The Council of Ministers already approved an informal text (draft "General orientation") on the dossier in December 2010. Currently, only Germany, Lithuania and Romania are opposed. However, several more countries ( Sweden, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Belgium and Ireland) are reluctant and/or concerned about the very poor legal drafting of the text that was adopted.
The text adopted by the Council is as follows:
2. Where the removal of web pages containing or disseminating child pornography is not possible within a reasonable time, Member States shall take the necessary measures, including through non-legislative measures, to ensure that the blocking of access to web pages containing or disseminating child pornography is possible towards the Internet users in their territory.
The blocking of access shall be subject to adequate safeguards, in particular to ensure that the blocking, taking into account technical characteristics, is limited to what is necessary, that users are informed of the reasons for the blocking and that content providers, as far as possible, are informed of the possibility of challenging it."
The Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament will prepare the draft position of the institution, which is subsequently put to a vote of the whole parliament.
Therefore, at this stage of the process, all efforts need to be focussed on Members of the Civil Liberties Committee.
A full list of MEPs on the Civil Liberties Committee is available at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/activities/committees/membersCom.do?lang...
There are three specific activities you can engage in:
1. Offer support to organisations that would campaign on this issue but do not have the resources - and find such organisations
2. Phone parliamentarians
3. Write (via e-mail, fax or letter) to parliamentarians)
A summary of some of the vast number of arguments that can be used against blocking are at the bottom of this page.
Some expert child rights & child protection organisations will be sending statements on this issue to Parliamentarians, but will not have the resources to follow up with phone calls. Activists can volunteer to take this role for such organisations. Some groups might also be interested in providing input but do not know how - identifying, recruiting and supporting such groups' efforts would be a valuable contribution.
If you know of an organisation that has expertise in child protection and needs support to contact the Parliament, please contact the organisation or contact EDRi with details.
Phone some MEPs - even a few phone calls will make a difference. A randomly generated set of MEPs (who are members of the Civil Liberties (LIBE), Women's Rights (FEMM) or both Committees) to call is available from this page: http://wakeupcall.qb352.de/committee/libe (focus on MEPs listed as libe_committee_member or libe_committee_substitute)
Example phone calls: This is just an example of phone call, to give an idea. It is not intended to be reused as such. Spontaneity is always better....
Here is an example phone call , to help you to know how to talk to MEPs assistants:
YOU: "Hello, I would like to talk to Mrs/Mr MEP, please."
Assistant: "Mrs/Mr MEP is not available, I am her/his assistant. Can I help you?"
YOU: "I am MyName, calling from MyCountry, I am very much concerned by the proposal on blocking that is in the Angelilli Report on Child Exploitation"
Assistant: "I see. We had calls before. I have no time."
YOU: "But it is very important! The proposal risks both undermining fundamental rights and child protection"
Assistant: "Don't worry. It is one of a package of measures, blocking isn't being proposed as replacement to real action, but to complement other actions."
YOU: (Use whichever argument of your own or an argument below). For example: "Some countries block already and there is no evidence that it is used as a complementary measure. The text adopted by the Council calls on Member States to inform criminals that their site is being blocked - this is a clear recognition that blocking will be used instead of a real policy to prosecute the real crime." Assistant: "I'll tell Mrs/Mr MEP."
YOU: "Thank you very much for listening to me. I'll call you again shortly to know what he/she thought. Have a good day."
Parliamentarians can be e-mailed at email@example.com, faxed at +32 2 284 9xxx and written to at European Parliament, Rue Wiertz, B-1047 Brussels, Belgium.
Random short lists of relevant MEPs to e-mail are available from
http://wakeupcall.qb352.de/committee/libe (focus on MEPs listed as libe_committee_member or libe_committee_substitute). The full e-mail list is available from EDRi on request - however, it is important that this not be abused.
- Experience from countries that already block is that it is not used as part of a comprehensive package of measures against child abuse sites. It is used instead of a proper package of measures. The Danish police even confirmed in a hearing in the German Parliament that they no longer pass on reports of abuse sites to third countries and block them instead.
- Blocking warns the criminals behind the sites that their activities have been identified. How can there be a comprehensive strategy against the criminals when they are warned in advance by the blocking system?
- The text adopted by the Council demands that the criminals ("content providers") be informed when their sites are blocked. This would only be necessary if there was no criminal investigation which would (obviously?) include the website being taken offline, if it contained illegal information.
Explaining why "it is better than nothing" is wrong
- Is it better than nothing to give criminals advance warning that their activities have been noticed by law enforcement authorities?
- Is it better than nothing to plan for failure in international cooperation to delete the websites, prosecute the criminals and identify the victims?
- Is it better than nothing to give governments the opportunity to make it appear that they are taking action on child abuse when evidence from countries that already undertake blocking is that it is used as a smokescreen rather than as part of a comprehensive strategy?
- Is it better than nothing to outsource the problem to Internet access providers that can only take cosmetic measures?
Explaining why "this will only be limited to child abuse images" is wrong
-The main supporters of blocking in the Council are the countries that have already spread from blocking child abuse images to blocking other content, such blocking which aims at protecting gambling monopolies and the music and film industries.
- The European Commission financially supports the CIRCAMP project, which states on its own website that they over-block content, as a way of coercing web hosting companies into surveillance measures.
Parliamentary question on CIRCAMP: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+WQ+E-...
Explaining why "it is proportionate because it might help" is wrong
-The European Commission's own 2007 Impact Assessment on Terrorism opposed blocking because the websites move around too much. The Canadian child abuse hotline observed a child abuse website move 121 times in 48 hours.
-The Commission-funded hotline in the UK (the IWF) reports a massive increase in websites that are effectively outside the scope of blocking - such as those using hacked servers, where the site will be deleted immediately once the owner becomes aware of it.
- All legislation comes with a cost for society - even good and proportionate legislation. The small and decreasing amount of websites that could theoretically be blocked must be paid for by mission creep (the inevitable spread of blocking to other policy areas), technology creep (the inevitable use of more and more invasive types of blocking), damage to the EU's reputation for free speech and the cost of the "leaking" of blocking lists.
Pointing out the Commission's contradictions
- Commissioner Malmström said that only "committed amateurs can circumvent some of the blocking filters used today". The Commission's own DNS servers are based in Luxembourg, so the Commission accidentally circumvents Belgian blocking filters. The Commission also funds the promotion of privacy enhancing technologies (PETs) - and many PETs accidentally circumvent blocking filters.
- Even though Commissioner Malmström said that "committed amateurs - can circumvent some of the blocking filters used today," her colleague Commissioner Füle said that "many people in Turkey have circumvented the ban on YouTube," downplaying its significance.
- Commissioner Malmström says that blocking of child abuse images has nothing to do with fundamental rights. However, the 2007 Commission impact assessment on terrorism said that the adoption of blocking measures necessarily implies a restriction of human rights, in particular the freedom of expression.
- The Commission changed the draft Framework Decision in order to permit the use of non-legislative measures for the implementation of blocking. However, not only did the 2007 Commission impact assessment on terrorism say that adoption of blocking measures necessarily implies a restriction of human rights, in particular the freedom of expression and therefore, it can only be imposed by law, the impact assessment of the Directive itself says that "such measures must indeed be subject to law, or they are illegal".
Further arguments can also be found in EDRi's blocking booklet:
http://www.unwatched.org/system/files/Netzsperren_Broschure.pdf (DE) http://www.edri.org/docs/EDRi-Internet%20Blocking-CZ.pdf (CZ)
The deadline for amendments has now passed. So, MEPs now have to choose between those proposals and the Commission's initial blocking text. The full list of amendments is here: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//NONSGML+CO... (replace the EN at the end in order to get your own language, if available – DE for German, FR for French, etc).
The good news is that MEPs from almost all political groups tabled very good, digital rights friendly amendments (although there are a lot of bad amendments too). So, when you phone an MEP from, say, the EPP political group, you can say... "your colleagues Edit Bauer and Carlos Coehlo tabled excellent amendments, we hope that you will be able to support them"). You can then point out that other amendments are very similar, using the list below.
A core list of good amendments on (not!) blocking is here (there are others also, but these appear to be the most capable of attracting a majority of MEPs at this moment):
|75 Edit Bauer/Carlos Coehlo or 79 Sabine Verheyen||76 (Petra Kammerevert) and 80 (Françoise Castex + Greens)|
|82 (Alexander Alvaro, Nadja Hirsch, Sophia in’t Veld) or 81 (Lena Ek)||Amendment 80 from Jean Lambert, Jan-Philipp Albrecht||77 (Kyriacos Triantaphyllides, Cornelia Ernst, Rui Tavares)|
|323 Edit Bauer/Carlos Coehlo or 324 Sabine Verheyen)||326 (Petra Kammerevert) and 320 (Compromise text)|
|320 (Compromise text)||320 (Compromise text)||320 (Compromise text)|
The compromise text was signed by Jan Philipp Albrecht (Greens), Alexander Alvaro (ALDE), Françoise Castex (S+D), Cornelia Ernst (GUE/NGL), Nadja
Hirsch (ALDE), Franziska Keller (Greens), Jean Lambert (Greens), Stavros Lambrinidis (S+D), Birgit Sippel (S+D, Rui
Tavares (GUE/NGL, Kyriacos Triantaphyllides (GUE/NGL), Sophia in 't Veld (ALDE), Cecilia Wikström (ALDE)
|336 Edit Bauer/Carlos Coehlo or 332 Sabine Verheyen)||331 (Petra Kammerevert) and 337 (Compromise text)|
|337 (Compromise text)||337 (Compromise text)||337(Compromise text)|
The compromise text was signed by Jan Philipp Albrecht (Greens), Alexander Alvaro (ALDE), Françoise Castex (S+D), Cornelia Ernst (GUE/NGL), Nadja Hirsch (ALDE), Franziska Keller (Greens), Jean Lambert (Greens), Stavros Lambrinidis (S+D), Birgit Sippel (S+D, Rui Tavares (GUE/NGL, Kyriacos Triantaphyllides (GUE/NGL), Sophia in 't Veld (ALDE), Cecilia Wikström (ALDE)