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EU ISP Association Slams CleanIT Project for Naive Internet Censorship Plan

Saturday, Oct 27th, 2012 (9:40 am) - Score 464

The European Internet Services Providers Association (EuroISPA) has criticized the CleanIT project, which is funded by the European Commission (EC) and claims that it wants to fight online terrorism through voluntary self-regulation measures, for effectively forcing ISPs into censoring internet content and threatening unworkable rules.

A recent leak of the CleanIT project suggested a heap of unusual and largely unworkable measures, which EuroISPA criticized for showing a very “superficial knowledge of the Internet sector“. Indeed one proposal called upon online services to introduce new rules that would force internet users to use their real names, which as any webmaster knows would never work.

Another idea suggested that ISPs should be held liable for not making a “reasonable” effort to use technological surveillance to identify “terrorist” internet use, while a related proposal demanded that ISPs should also be held liable if they use end-user filtering systems but fail to report “illegal” activity identified by the filter (filters can’t usually identify the content itself, only the type of traffic).

EuroISPA Gripes

1. The General Principles of the CleanIT Project do not provide any evidence or statistical information whatsoever to justify the adoption of “additional measures” by Internet providers in relation to allegedly terrorist content. An evidence based approach is the backbone of any legislative or self-regulatory intervention. Lacking any comprehensive assessment showing clearly where the shortcomings lie, any action, particularly if “proactive”, would risk creating a problem that does not exist.

2. The CleanIT Project shows clearly a superficial knowledge of the Internet sector. The documents on the CleanIT Project’s website refer to “Internet companies” in general, but for the purposes of the project a holistic approach can’t be taken. For example, the notice and take down procedures proposed in the project are relevant only to companies that are hosting providers. Pure access providers cannot deploy this tool. Access Providers, due to the ambiguous terminology would, however, still be bound to follow the proposed procedures and, in fact, are mentioned alongside content delivery companies and content publishing companies.

3. The CleanIT Project proposes that Internet companies take proactive measures to detect the “unequivocal use” of the Internet for terrorism purposes specifying that where the industry “cannot agree” on the unlawful nature of content, only then should a judge be requested to perform such a value judgment. This is a clear attempt to privatise the law enforcement and judicial duties in relation to a specific content, terrorism, whose illegality greatly depends on the context.

4. The CleanIT Project seems to overlap with other initiatives currently discussed by other Commission’s Directorates-General, i.e. the “Notice&Action” initiative by DG Internal Market (addressing illegal activities online in a horizontal way); the “Open Voluntarism” initiative (to create a European, principles-based code of conduct for self- and co-regulatory mechanisms) and the “ICT4Society” (to set a multi-stakeholders platform to advance Corporate Social Responsibility in the ICT sector) by DG CNECT.

5. The CleanIT Project has not been endorsed by the ISP community. The disclaimer on the website of CleanIT goes as far as specifying that even if some companies attended the meetings “[t]his does not implicate any commitment to temporary or future results by the individuals or their organization”. This clear acknowledgement of lack of support is symptomatic of the legitimacy of the CleanIT project and of the restrictive and, sometimes, even dangerous measures proposed.

The EuroISPA said that in its current form CleanIT is a “serious threat [to] democratic values“, would have a negative impact upon EU businesses and risked introducing a significant degree of legal uncertainty.

The association went on to strongly reject the implementation of “doubtful technical measures” to monitor legal communications online, the elimination of anonymity online and the relegation of the judiciary to a last resort instance.

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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