European Parliament says no to Web-site blocking

The European Parliament has voted against blocking access to Web sites as a way of regulating content on the Internet, instead pushing self-regulation and filter and rating systems.

The vote — 460 in favour, 0 against and 3 abstentions — on Thursday adopted a report on the protection of minors and human dignity that addresses many media, including the Internet. The Parliament’s report is not a legislative document, but is in response to a previous evaluation report by the European Commission.

The Parliament’s decision was applauded by the European Internet Services Providers Association (EuroISPA), which has always been pro self-regulation. In a statement Thursday, EuroISPA called blocking a “technically disastrous solution” that also creates “free speech and democratic concerns.”

“In Germany a regional government is trying to implement legislation to force Internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to certain Web sites containing Nazi content,” said Joe McNamee, spokesman for EuroISPA. “Blocking anything bad is not intrinsically bad, but practically bad,” he added.

Blocking Web sites, for example because of harmful or illegal content, is a “drastic” measure that does “not solve the problem of sites outside the European Union (E.U.), nor that of sites which are legal for adults, but could be harmful to children or young people,” the Parliament said, according to a Parliament statement.

Instead of blocking sites, content providers and ISPs should self-regulate and users should take advantage of filtering technologies and content rating, the Parliament said. It asks that the European Commission, the E.U.’s executive body, promote creation of content filtering systems to support parental control.

Additionally, the Parliament asks the 15 E.U. member states to set up hotlines to handle complaints about illegal or harmful Internet content.

Children’s welfare is primarily the responsibility of their legal guardians, but that does not absolve content providers, ISPs and legislators of their responsibilities, the Parliament said.

EuroISPA is happy with the “clear marker” the Parliament has set, even though it is not European law, it said.

“This statement of principle is very useful. The regional governments in Germany have got to plough on with the knowledge that there is strong opposition to this type of approach on a European level,” McNamee said.

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