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By: MarkJ - 23 April, 2010 (7:03 AM)
stop internet censorship signThe European Internet Service Providers Association (EuroISPA), which represents over 1700 EU ISPs including the UK ISPA, has warned that the recently published Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) would introduce measures that will leave ISPs with "no alternative other than to monitor the internet traffic of consumers" for unlawful copyright file sharing.

The controversial treaty, which was published earlier this week in draft form after two years of secrecy (here), seeks to establish international standards on intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement. This would also make it easier to tackle those suspected of unlawfully downloading copyright files through broadband ISPs.

EuroISPA believes that the text released still goes far beyond the existing implementation of the European regulatory framework regarding liability, introducing measures that will damage the industry sector via the creation of undue liability on ISPs, invading personal privacy and generally jeopardising the openness of the Internet.

Under normal circumstances, Internet intermediaries cannot be held liable when their services are misused by third parties. This core principle for the functioning of the Information Society was enacted in the 2000 Electronic Commerce Directive, preventing Member States from requiring ISPs to carry out surveillance of their services.

Malcolm Hutty, President of EuroISPA, argues:

"EuroISPA acknowledges the Commission’s commitment in partially complying with transparency obligation in the Lisbon Treaty. However, we believe that ACTA should not undermine the protections from liability for online intermediaries in the community acquis by subordinating them to other policy goals. This is a serious concern considering the crucial role played by the Internet for the development of the economic recovery, not only in the consumer space but also as an infrastructure underpinning business and employment".

The agreement suggests that, in order to avoid or limit liability, ISPs may have no alternative other than to monitor their customers Internet traffic; a policy which has recently been considered disproportionate and unnecessary by the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS).

EuroISPA has repeatedly remarked that such procedures are inappropriate in a democratic system, and in some cases even fall outside the corpus of EU laws (acquis communautaire), for example when criminal measures are proposed. The UK ISPA has confirmed that they "agree with the views taken" above.

The UK government and Ofcom previously said that they would not require ISPs to snoop on their customers private online activity. Still they do not rule out the adoption of Detica's new CView Deep Packet Inspect (DPI) technology, which is being tested by Cable ISP Virgin Media UK (here). The threat of legal action is also a potent weapon for bullying ISPs into a corner.
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