Friday, December 31, 2004

EU Committee on Human Rights & Internet

European Digital Rights (EDRI) European Digital Rights (EDRI) found something interesting in the nearly impenetrable forest of EU sites, which has been floating around for a while: the Council of Europe has formed a committee that is working on a draft political statement on human rights and the internet. "Human rights and the internet" is as euphemistic the committee's scope can be described, because it plans to illuminate us on a pile of issues that makes you hold your breath:
  • the right to freedom of expression and information;
  • the right to respect for private life and correspondence, for example with regard to the protection of 'traffic data' and to the problem of 'spamming';
  • the prohibition of racist and xenophobic speech, including on the Internet;
  • the right to education, for example e-learning;
  • the prohibition of slavery and forced labour;
  • the prohibition of trafficking in human beings;
  • the right to a fair trial, for example with respect to reporting on criminal proceedings by electronic media;
  • the principle of no punishment without law, for example with regard to new forms of cybercrime and the question of jurisdiction;
  • the importance of encouraging access to and the use by all of new information technologies without discrimination;
  • the protection of property, for example intellectual property in cyberspace;
  • the right to free elections, for example with regard to "e-voting";
  • the freedom of assembly and association as developing in cyberspace
The scope is amazing, and I would be amazed to get a clear recommendations from such a broad and general outstart. But who will provide us with insights in these burning issues in the first place? EDRI makes it look as if the committee is made up anonymous IP spin doctors that can vote us into an dystopian internet policy. I cannot find the people directly involved in the committee, but the related website reveals more information on the papers/ideas accompanying this "Internet & Human Rights" committee. I'll try to come back on them later, but guess I should have been informed much earlier. Two picks for now from several draft theses that "can be considered to initiate a debate about draft provisions for a document to be presented to the Committee of Ministers":
III. The advent of digital technology has a far-reaching impact on the protection of original works by copyright or neighbouring rights. These technologies not only allow works to be copied, with quality equal to that of the digital original, but also allow the large-scale dissemination of such copies. The fact that they can be accessed by the general public and used to exchange counterfeit photographic, musical or cinematographic works, is often presented as a major threat to authors, artists and the cultural industry.[italics added - RL]
Well, let's just say there is another side to the copyright medal, which has been defended and explained over and over and over again: the lock-down-of-culture-through-excessive-copyright-mantra. And what's up with the access of the general public to original works is a threat? Isn't that where the business model is?
IV. Protecting minors on the Internet is an issue to which the Council of Europe, the European Union and many states have devoted considerable attention. The aim is to prevent minors being exposed to harmful content; in other words content that is not unlawful in itself, but is considered to be harmful to minors. In order to regulate this content it has to be stimulated that control software will be developed that enables to filter and classify such content, whereas systems for identifying minors on-line should be improved.
Harmful content, the ghost that keeps haunting us. This number IV thesis does one thing right: reflecting the European search for filtering solutions, which has been a policy for years. If this search is right in itself is a whole different and far more complex question than the mere recommendation that "it has to be stimulated that control software is developed" to filter and classify content. Sponsoring technology that is effectively a censorship tool on a European level? Classify? PICS all over? The nineties calling? The premise of the committee & papers/ideas seems to be a good one: protection of human rights on the internet. However, I doubt the massive scope of the project that should form the basis for some serious policy guidelines. From first glance I doubt some of the provided theses. Europe seems in need for some policy changes, but if it is set in the right direction is questionable, as always.
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EDRI report


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