Web blocking – Conclusions from the Danish Presidency

By EDRi · June 6, 2012

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: [Netzsperren: Schlussfolgerungen der dänischen Ratspräsidentschaft |]

On 8 June 2012 the Council of Ministers will adopt a “Council
Conclusions” document on the creation of a “Global Alliance against
Child Sexual Abuse Online”. In line with the Directive adopted last
year, the text refers to blocking “where appropriate” of websites. The
inclusion of blocking in the text indicates an expectation of failure –
a “global alliance” could be expected to effectively remove, identify
and prosecute such offences wherever the material was found. It also
transplants a concept from EU legislation into an international context,
with all of the dangers that this implies. The reference to blocking in
the EU Directive is surrounded by safeguards (even if these are not
always implemented) and subject to the Charter of Fundamental Rights but
in the international environment those safeguards do not apply.

Separately, the Danish and Swedish authorities have been actively
lobbying Japan to introduce web blocking. The Swedish Ambassador to
Japan attended an event in Tokyo last week to lobby in favour of
blocking – touting Sweden’s entirely bizarre official “statistics” to
support their case. By coincidence, one of the biggest technology
providers that works in the blocking area is Netclean, which happens to
be Swedish. By a second coincidence, the Swedish EU Commissioner’s
services fund CIRCAMP, a police-based organisation that also lobbies for
web blocking.

The motivations of the Danish Presidency are difficult to guess at – is
child abuse being instrumentalised for other policy goals or does the
Danish government simply not understand the issue of online child abuse?

No particular attention appears to have been given to the fact that
there is no statistical information showing that blocking provides any
particular value in the protection of children. Worse still, statistics
from EU-funded hotlines show that even the potential value of blocking
for child protection reasons is dropping at a precipitous rate. Not
alone is the overall number of sites dropping consistently, around half
of the sites (and the proportion is growing) are file hosting sites or
hacked servers which cannot normally be blocked. For example, blocking
the entire Flickr or Microsoft Skydrive services because their services
had been abused would clearly be inappropriate.

There has been given no special attention either to the fact that, even
with EU protections for fundamental rights, blocking for child abuse
material has spread to cover other types of material (gambling and
copyright, in particular) in every country where it has been implemented
in Europe, except Sweden. Nor has any attention been given in the
document to the need for appropriate safeguards, although this may be
due to the fact that some EU countries have blocking with no meaningful
safeguards – indeed Denmark itself has a blocking system that does not
have a legal basis.

The document to be adopted is a set of “Presidency Conclusions.” These
are non-binding but must be adopted unanimously. One has to wonder at
countries like the Netherlands, Germany and Poland, which had extensive
discussions on a national level, which resulted in a decision that
blocking should not be implemented. Indeed, Germany was the only country
in the Council discussions to raise any concerns at all about this
initiative. It seems little more than reckless to permit the EU’s
credibility to be attached to a strategy to be spread around the world
which is not good enough to be implemented in many of its own Member

Ironically, while the EU continues to push directionlessly for blocking
in any forum that it can find, it makes no efforts to reflect on
improving its domestic measures. There has been basically no evolution
of policy or thinking on either blocking or “notice and takedown” in the
past decade while in the US the procedures around notice and takedown
have been completely reformed to a positive effect.

Statistics from the Internet Watch Foundation annual reports for the
last number of years


Sweden’s blocking page


(Contribution by Joe McNamee – EDRi)