Is Europe the Model for Internet Filtering ?

Anyone who want the internet to be free, democratic and unfettered would usually look to Europe for a lead in this. After all it doesn’t usually take long for some despot or dictator to start trying to control the internet after gaining power. Indeed many African nations have suffered greatly with draconian internet blocks. One of the main reasons is of course – fear, the social networking storms that fueled the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt were very visible. It has become common place now in those countries to use VPNs and proxies as standard, indeed activists are even going one step further and using encrypted residential VPNs such as in this post for an extra layer of protection.

Inside less than a decade, the Internet in Europe has evolved from a basically unfettered environment to one in which filtering in almost all countries, particularly within the European Union (EU), is the norm rather than the exception. Contrasted with a number of the countries in various other regions that block out Web content, the rise of filtering in Europe is noteworthy considering its departure from a strong culture of libertarian processes and a commitment to free expression. Filtering takes place in a variety of formats, including things like the state-ordered take- down of prohibited web content on domestically hosted Websites, the barring of illegal web content hosted overseas, and the filtering of results by internet search engine pertaining to unlawful content.

Considering that in most nations worldwide that engage In filtering, the distinction in between voluntary and state mandated filtering is to some extent blurred in Europe. In many situations filtering by Internet service providers (ISPs), search engines, and web content providers in Europe is termed “voluntary” but is carried outwith the implied understanding that co-operation with state authorities will likely help prevent further regulations on the matter. The scope of unlawful content that is filtered in Europe largely is actually limited to child pornography, racism, and material which promotes hatred and terrorism, although more recently there certainly have been proposals and modifications of laws in a few countries that deal with filtering in various other areas such as copyright and gaming.

Filtering also takes place on account of defamation laws; this practice has been criticized, particularly in the UK, for curtailing lawful on-line behavior and promoting an excessively aggressive notice-and takedown policy, where ISPs comply by getting rid of content instantly for fear of legal action. ISPs in Europe do not have any kind of general commitment to monitor Internet use and are protected from liability for unlawful content by regulations at the European Union (EU) level, however, must filter such web content once it is brought to their notice. Therefore the degree of filtering in member states depends on the efforts of governments, police, advocacy groups, and the general public in recognizing and reporting illegal material.

Initiatives over the previous decade have been underway to create a series of common plans and strategies at the EU-level on Internet policy. This is actually viewed as necessary to promote regional competitiveness and business, to counter Internet crime and terrorism, and to offer as a platform to share best practices among nations. Notable advancements in regulation at the EU level– although not directly in the area of filtering include the definition of ISP liability toward unlawful content and responsibilities towards data retention.

Further Reading – Explaining Rotating Backconnect Proxies