Question for written answer
to the Commission
Marietje Schaake (ALDE), 14.04.11
The encouragement of self-regulation or engaging in public-private partnerships with regards to the blocking or deletion of information on the Internet is pushed by certain Commission Directorates-General and raises questions of legality. The circumvention of legality and the lack of democratic oversight are a source of concern. I have learned that several units in DG MARKT and DG HOME are encouraging Internet service providers (ISPs) and other intermediaries on the Internet to agree to self-regulatory initiatives whereby they voluntarily monitor information flows on their networks or platforms and punish users accused of illegal or infringing activity, whilst threatening a stricter legislative regime for intermediaries. Where ISPs have successfully managed their networks and systems on a basis of self-regulation to combat spam, viruses and possible attacks, assessing the legality of content and surfing behaviour should not be left to private actors. Law-enforcing competences have been divided among different public authorities in the offline world to install checks and balances and thereby protect fundamental rights, such as privacy.
1. Is the Commission aware that units in several DGs have in the past operated in the way described? If not, why not?
2. Does the Commission agree that such self-regulation by Internet service providers essentially means that the democratic process and checks and balances are circumvented and enforcement of the law is being privatised? If not, why not?
3. Does the Commission agree that such agreements require far-reaching investigative, policing, judging and sanctioning actions from the intermediaries which violate fundamental rights? If not, why not?
4. In addition, giving Member States the authority to block certain websites through ISPs can, in effect, give them a tool for censorship. Even if the use of this competence is strictly limited to blocking images of child abuse, we see a slippery slope leading to blocking in the case of ‘terrorism’, ‘hate speech’, and ‘IPR infringement’ (‘function creep’). For example, the Swedish publishing house Bonnier is currently attempting to gain access to the Internet traffic data of an alleged copyright infringer by applying the data retention law, which was established to investigate and prosecute criminal acts (ie. not mere infringements). With regards to the current proposal, which sanctions does the Commission envision being given to punish Member States who misuse blocking competences? What will the Commission do to prevent this function creep?