This is hopefully going to be our last report on the EU-funded Clean IT project. Since our last article, which was the trigger for quite some negative feedback in the international press, much has changed in the drafting documents of the project. On Wednesday 30 January, the participants meet for a final conference in Brussels in order to approve a final report (pdf) containing a list of recommendations (and lots and lots of white space).
What happened so far? In 2010, But Klaasen, from Dutch law enforcement, submitted a project proposal to the European Commission. The Commission’s own internal review condemned CleanIT’s incoherence and cost and, despite this devastating evaluation, he received 325.796 Euro from the European Commission’s Directorate General for Home Affairs.
The project aimed to produce a “guideline or gentleman’s agreement” for the online industry to reduce terrorist use of the Internet in a way which does not involve the use of legislation. It was first publicly announced in May 2010, led by the Netherlands (NCTV) and partnered by Germany (BMI), United Kingdom (Home Office), Belgium (CUTA), and Spain (CNCA).
So, what has the project produced so far ? As the online archive service Wayback Machine shows, the project started off more broadly in order to fight all sorts of really bad stuff, such as “the illegal use of the Internet”. In 2011, the CleanIT project also aimed “to limit the use of the internet by organizations or individuals inciting murder and violence, and or publishing or disseminating racist and xenophobic material, and hate speech.”
Later, in September 2012, our leaks showed that this project came up with a very long list of very poor proposals. These included a legal underpinning of “real name” rules to prevent anonymous use of online services, the implementation of upload filters by companies check all content in case it had already been removed, the removal of content on the authority of law enforcement authorities “without following the more labour-intensive and formal procedures for ‘notice and action’” etc.
Following a wave of negative reports in the global media, the final draft has now been reduced to a somewhat less outrageous collection of recommendations. One of the concrete action points in these final recommendations is a browser button that would permit users to report “terrorist use of the internet”. It is simply unbelievable that a project receives funding from the Commission for the voluntary introduction of measures that have already failed elsewhere: In 2010, the so-called White IT project in Germany introduced a reporting browser button for child abuse material – however, the subsequent massive amount of reports were impossible to process and, in the end, people stopped using the button and the add-on was abandoned.
However, the final document still contains worrying recommendations, such as the suggestion to service providers to “explicitly include the illegal terrorist use of the Internet in their terms of service” – moving past the traditional rule-of-law based society where democratically-elected governments decided what should be prohibited.
Hopefully, this is the last we will hear from the project. However, instead of the initial seriously dangerous and incompetent proposals, we are now faced with a project outcome that has wasted taxpayers’ money and still believes in a circumvention of the rule of law in order to deal with allegedly illegal material on the Internet.
The final report is still an incoherent mix of three elements—the effective lobbying done by the filtering companies that took part, the support for privatised policing that was the motivation behind the project being funded, and the profound incompetence of the project team. In the end, the group has produced a document which cost 44 Euro per word (30 pages containing 7413 words for 325.796 euro). Next time, before funding such ridiculous proposals, they should ask any random citizen what they should do with the grant, using only 88 Euro’s worth of words.