Four strikes against web blocking in Brussels

By EDRi · November 2, 2011

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Deutsch: [Brüssel: “Four Strikes” gegen Netzsperren |]

Last week, the European Parliament took its final vote on the proposed
Directive on Child Sexual Exploitation. Parliamentarians voted for a
compromise text which rejected the European Commission’s proposal to make
web blocking mandatory across the EU. The final text creates significant new
barriers for Member States who already have introduced lawless blocking
systems, such as are currently operated in the Denmark, the UK and Sweden,
the home country of the Home Affairs Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström.

Under the Lisbon Treaty, any measure which is regulated by European
legislation is subject to the Charter on Fundamental Rights. As a result,
from now on, blocking is not only subject to the limitations listed in the
Directive (blocking must be based on transparent procedures, must provide
adequate safeguards, must be necessary and proportionate and must allow for
judicial redress), but also the restrictions listed in Article 52 of the
Charter on Fundamental Rights. This requires restrictions to be “provided
for by law”, to be necessary and to “genuinely meet objectives of general
interest”. In Sweden, blocking is not provided for by law and, as a result,
a reform of the procedures would be necessary to bring them into line with
the Directive. Currently, the Swedish system is a case study in the laxity
that comes from blocking – the blocking list is only updated every two
weeks, despite the fact that most recent research shows that sites only
remain online for 12 days.

Also last week, the European Commission adopted its Communication on the “EU
response to drugs.” The Communication makes reference to the problem of
drugs being available via the Internet. However, when the policy of web
blocking was discussed at the highest levels in the Commission, a unanimous
decision was taken that web blocking would not be an appropriate strategy.

Last month, on 16 September 2011, the European Commission organised an
“expert-based workshop” to follow up on the Green Paper on Gambling in the
Internal Market. The minutes of that meeting show that even enforcement
bodies now recognise that “blocking does not work as an isolated enforcement
tool” and, while the regulators still hold on to the theory that blocking
may have some positive effect in combination with other strategies, they
also concede that this possible benefit is counterbalanced by the fact that
“blocking might impact on legitimate business”.

Finally, the European Parliament is coming to the end of its deliberations
on the same gambling Green Paper. Quite remarkably, after the European
Commission devoted a significant section of its document to asking if and
how blocking might be useful in fighting illegal gambling websites, the
European Parliament studiously ignored the question. In the two “Opinions”
prepared by the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee and the Legal
Affairs Committee, the suggestion is not considered worthy of mention. It is
also not mentioned in the report of the Committee responsible (the Internal
Market and Consumer Protection Committee), with the MEP responsible, Jürgen
Creutzmann (ALDE, Germany) being very clear in speeches that he has given on
the subject that the experience of blocking in France and Italy shows that
blocking has, at best, a marginal impact on achieving its goals.

Final Parliament report on child exploitation (27.10.2011)

Charter on Fundamental Rights

Average removal time for child abuse sites

European Commission Communication on Drugs (25.11.2011)

Expert meeting on gambling (14.10.2011)

(contribution by Joe McNamee – EDRi)