Legal Analysis: EU Content Filtering Could Be Illegal

Content filtering and calls to break encryption for governments around the world have been growing in recent weeks. Now, in the midst of increased rhetoric to allow governments to attack internet infrastructure, one analysis shows that the idea of filtering the Internet in Europe could be illegal.

We’ve been following the calls by European government authorities to attack free speech in a confused effort to save free speech. Calls for Internet filtering have increased thanks to the attack on a satirical magazine in France which many consider an attack on free speech in spite of some of the questionable things being portrayed by the magazine in question.

With some people questioning the calls for filtering the Internet for so-called “hate speech”, some are questioning the legality of Europe censoring the Internet in the first place. An analysis in ITWorld by Loek Essers suggests that calls to block content could be, among other things, a violation of privacy rights. From the analysis:

The Council is in the process of determining what to do with the proposals of the Commission and the Parliament to enshrine net neutrality in EU law. While the Parliament wants a strict form of net neutrality that treats all traffic equally and without discrimination, the Council is trying to get some traffic discrimination into the draft.

One of the main issues raised by the new presidency is the legality of ISPs blocking or filtering certain content on a self-regulatory basis in pursuit of recognized public interests. A request to allow Internet service providers to do this “appears to raise certain legal issues relating to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and/or the 2002/58 ePrivacy Directive, including with respect to confidentiality of communications,” the presidency wrote, adding that it is unsure if these issues can be resolved.

The recognition that it might be illegal to block or filter content was warmly welcomed by European digital rights group EDRi, which has for the past five years argued that it is illegal under EU and international law for states to encourage Internet companies to block or filter traffic outside a clear legal framework.

This would certainly add a layer of legal difficulty for those who want to censor the Internet in Europe. The one stumbling block on this, though, is that lawmakers are the ones calling for the curtailing of speech on the Internet. Amendments to laws can certainly be made both for increasing Internet freedoms and curtailing those same freedoms. Regardless, ensuring Internet freedoms appear to be a step ahead for the time being if this analysis is anything to go by.

If anything, this is certainly one of the many current battlegrounds for human rights on the Internet. How far various government entities will go to curtail these freedoms will be interesting to see.

(Via /.)

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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