Civil liberties group claims victory

 A very successful lobbying campaign was mounted by the European Digital Rights group (EDRI). Earlier this week in the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament the MEPs who supported the line they were pushing defeated a proposal by the European Commission and the Council of Ministers which, had it passed, would have required every EU Member State to block access to known child pornography web sites pending the deletion of the images at source.

  • Successful lobbyist

EDRI’s prowess as a lobbyist cannot be doubted. They are crowing about their victory but we ought just to remind ourselves what EDRI is. I quote from their web site

“Members of European Digital Rights have joined forces to defend civil rights in the information society. The need for cooperation among organizations active in Europe is increasing as more regulation regarding the internet, copyright and privacy is originating from European institutions, or from International institutions with strong impact in Europe.

Some examples of regulations and developments that have the attention of European Digital Rights are data retention requirements, spam, telecommunications interception, copyright and fair use restrictions, the cyber-crime treaty, rating, filtering and blocking of internet content and notice-and-takedown procedures of websites.”

Notice the word that is missing? Yes. It’s “children”.

  • Just another fight

For EDRI the fight against blocking child abuse web sites is just one of many that it is waging against, as they see it, the encroachment of the state into cyberspace.

For EDRI blocking child pornography on the internet is, in their view, just one step on a long and dangerous slippery slope. They want to stop blocking altogether or tie it up in so many judicial and procedural knots as to render it unworkable. They want to minimise the burden on ISPs. For the children’s organizations the argument was a different one.  It is very sad that children lost out.

  • Deletion at source is everyone’s preferred option

Everyone, EDRI included, wants these terrible images deleted at source and for this to be accomplished in the fastest possible time. But regrettably different countries have different priorities. Some images can stay on view for weeks, months even a year or more after being reported. Shocking, but true. The question is therefore what do you do whilst you are waiting for deletion to take place?

  • But we need practical solutions not rhetoric and gestures

Simply saying that you want every country to delete the images rapidly is gesture politics. It might sound brave but actually it is an evasion of responsibility. Deletion and blocking are not opposites. They are complementary.

I want every country to do deletion rapidly. In the UK we can manage it within one hour of notification. Getting everyone else to comply with a similar standard could take forever and indeed may never happen.

  • Perverse outcome

What MEPs have done, therefore, is vote to insist that pictures of children being raped should remain on public view for longer than they need to be. The MEPs who voted against mandatory blocking appear to be content with the idea that everyone in the world can get at these foul pictures until nobody can.

MEPs had an option to insist that every EU Member State had to block the images pending deletion. They declined to take it. The matter remains discretionary. That means the status quo ante prevails where over 20 out of the 27 EU Member States have no blocking arrangements in place.

  • Could threaten existing arrangements

The wording adopted could even threaten the blocking arrangements we already have in the UK, which have worked very successfully and are largely financed by the high tech industries themselves.

  • And the rights of the children in the images?

What price the rights of the children in those pictures? What price the damage the continued circulation of those pictures does by sustaining paedophile activity and potentially drawing new people into paedophile activity?

  • Not perfect but it helps in the here and now

Blocking is not a perfect solution, it is a stop gap, but anything that disrupts criminal networks and reduces the number of people who can get at the images has to be in the interests of children. It is a great pity that Members of the LIBE Committee did not see it that way. 

If there is no way now to get the decision changed I fervently hope that when the text goes into the conciliation processes that the Council of Ministers will stand firm.

  • Who will speak for the weak?

Parliamentarians should be aligning themselves with the weakest and neediest members of society not with the vested interests of myopic ISPs and ideologically driven internet activists who cannot see the wood for the trees.

About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International and is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John is now or has formerly been an Adviser to the Council of Europe, the UN (ITU), the EU and UNICEF. John has advised many of the world's largest technology companies on online child safety. John's skill as a writer has also been widely recognised.
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