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Digital rights group criticises EU proposal to impose illicit content censorship

EU proposals to force internet service providers (ISPs) to block illicit content are not clear, would restrict freedom of speech and impose censorship across Europe, the European Digital Rights group (EDRi) says.06 May 2011

In February the presidency of the EU's Law Enforcement Working Party (LEWP) tabled a proposal to create "a single secure European cyberspace" at a meeting with the EU's Customs Cooperation Working Party.

The suggestions, which have only recently been reported, propose creating a "virtual Schengen border" by establishing an EU-wide firewall blocking user access to "illicit content". An "EU blacklist" would be drawn to identify the inappropriate content and ISPs would block users from accessing it, the minutes from the LEWP meeting said (7-page / 88KB PDF).

The police and websites, and not internet providers, should be responsible for tackling illegal online content, the EDRi said.

"Broadband providers are very concerned by this proposal which would actually impose Europe-wide censorship and believe that illegal content should be removed at the source by the cooperation between the police and web hosting firms and not by network blocking which, being easy to circumvent, is no real solution," a statement on the EDRi website said.

The proposals have not been properly analysed to see if the benefits of censorship outweigh the right to freedom of expression, the EDRi said.

"Despite all of the costs in terms of democracy, freedom of speech and even the economy, there is no analysis of any benefit or expected benefit that, even mistakenly, the architects of this madness expect to outweigh the cost" EDRi Advocacy Coordinator Joe McNamee said in the statement.

The EU has still to define what 'illicit content' is, the EDRi said.

"Some of the concerns raised by civil liberty groups are that there is no clarification as to what this "illicit content" means and that innocent sites are routinely included on such blacklists," the statement said.