Feeds

Commissioner pours scorn on internet freedom law

US Bill stuck in mud, European copycat trundles on

Maximizing your infrastructure through virtualization

New EU laws to protect freedom on the internet and force ISPs to stand up to authoritarian regimes are "unnecessary" and proposed penalties are "heavy", EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding told the European Parliament this week.

"We should not put European companies in an invidious position where their choice appears to be to break the law or leave the market to more unscrupulous operators," Reding argued. "Our goal should be to find ways to allow operators and service providers to respect human rights without doing either."

This is an important contribution to a debate that has been rumbling on since 2007, when the Global Online Freedom Act (GOFA) was introduced to the US House of Representatives. After a preamble that makes much of the threat to freedom posed by censorship under authoritarian regimes in Belarus, Cuba, Ethiopia, Iran and China, it asserts: "It shall be the policy of the United States to promote as a fundamental component of foreign policy the right of everyone to freedom of opinion and expression, including the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers".

This was echoed last July when Dutch MEP Jules Maaten introduced a similar proposal - the EU GOFA - into the European Parliament. He said: "Europe should promote freedom of speech as the basis of the internet. We need to create more transparency surrounding the involvement of European internet companies in online censorship. Human rights need also to be protected online through legislation that contains sanctions".

Critics of this approach have noted two problems both with the US GOFA and the EU version. First is the age-old argument that one man’s freedom is another man’s political correctness. Whilst the US take on freedom has its strong advocates around the globe, it also has its detractors - most notably amongst those who see it as little more than a fig leaf for advancing US commercial interests. The US GOFA would be limited to "the peaceful expression of political, religious or dissenting views", which is as elastic as the judiciary wish to make it.

The danger of penalising companies for going along with local values is that it only works as long as your own values have near 100 per cent buy-in. Otherwise, this approach merely opens the door to tit-for-tat evangelism with other countries ordering their own ISPs to push their values into the western world.

Second is the argument advanced by Commissioner Reding that a too legalistic approach would place burdens on conscientious companies that would simply be ignored by the less conscientious. In effect, bad practice would drive out the good.

Reding noted that the US State Department and Department of Justice were cautious about the possible unforeseen consequences of the GOFA, even in democratic countries in western Europe. Instead, she supported calls by US companies for a code of conduct setting out minimum corporate standards related to internet freedom and the channelling of EU money towards research and development of anti-censorship software.

Ironically, whilst the EU GOFA is now being actively debated in Europe, the US Bill that gave rise to this debate appears to be stuck in committee and to have made no significant progress since it was published. ®

Top three mobile application threats

More from The Register

next story
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
Apple smacked with privacy sueball over Location Services
Class action launched on behalf of 100 million iPhone owners
US judge: YES, cops or feds so can slurp an ENTIRE Gmail account
Crooks don't have folders labelled 'drug records', opines NY beak
ONE EMAIL costs mining company $300 MEEELION
Environmental activist walks free after hoax sent share price over a cliff
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.