Virtual Schengen documents released by EU Council

By EDRi · May 12, 2011

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Deutsch: [Neues zur “Virtuellen Schengen Grenze” |]

The Council of the European Union has released the controversial presentation on a “virtual Schengen border” – the proposal to create a “Chinese wall” around the Internet in Europe. The proposal was discussed by the Council in February.

The documents were released to Article 19.

The presentation, as well as the accompanying letter make fascinating reading. The key points are:

*It is made clear that the intention is to abuse the problem of child abuse as a method for gaining political support for this process. “This is only the first step to block paedophile content within the EU (…) it is possible in the future to broaden the cooperation of the blocking process (sic) by involving other types of crime.”
*Even though the presentation is branded with the Hungarian Presidency logo, it “does not reflect the official opinion of the Council, the General Secretariat of the Council or the Presidency.”
*Even though the “expert” who gave the presentation was invited by the Hungarian Presidency and even though the presentation was attended by 27 Member States and the Commission, the name of the “expert” has not been published, ostensibly to protect his/her privacy.
*The presentation makes clear that the content to be blocked would be sufficiently trivial that it is possible that it would not be illegal in the country where the material is hosted.
*Despite the complete absence of any evidence to suggest this is the case, the assertion is made that blocking of child abuse material “works” in Italy (which, probably not coincidentally, also blocks the widest range of content in Europe).
*The presentation makes reference to blocking making the material “unavailable” in Italy, despite the fact that this is factually untrue as DNS blocking is extremely easy to circumvent.
*Internet access providers are to become “virtual border crossing points.”

An interesting point, and one which shows the inherent dangers of the stress on blocking, is that there is never a mention of prosecuting the criminals – even when the content is hosted within the European Union. One has to wonder when exactly the priority in law enforcement become suppressing the evidence that crimes were committed rather than prosecuting the crimes and rescuing victims?

While the Hungarian Presidency is now saying that this virtual “Chinese Wall” is formally neither their nor the Council’s policy, the reality is that this proposal fits neatly within the context of the EU Cybercrime Platform proposed by the French EU Council Presidency in 2008.

With EU-level proposals and discussions on Internet blocking in the context of child abuse, gambling, copyright and now counterfeit medicines, it is far from surprising that the Council of Ministers is now discussing a harmonised “great Firewall of Europe” for the ever-growing list of content that they wish to restrict access to.