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UK, France move to filter the internet

By John Hilvert
Dec 20, 2010 5:23 PM

Separate bills to end ‘Wild West’ approach.

The UK and French Governments have separately conceived plans to block internet pornography on an internet service provider level.

British communications minister Ed Vaizey reportedly planned to meet with ISPs about blocking pornography by default, so adults would have to opt-in to view it.

Although he hoped ISPs would decide to self-regulate, Vaizey said the UK Government was ‘keeping an eye on the situation’. He expected to introduce a new communications bill ‘in the next couple of years’.

Meanwhile, members of French General Assembly adopted a bill on December 15 to allow the Government to filter the internet without court intervention.

Article 4 of the so-called ‘LOPPSI 2’ (loi d’orientation et de programmation pour la performance de la sécurité intérieure – law on guidelines and programming for the performance of internal security), referred to the blocking of child pornography sites.

The bill was reportedly designed to ‘Fight against child pornography: the internet access providers must prevent access by internet users to illegal content’.

But some MPs among the assembly attacked Article 4, which in effect allowed the government to filter the Internet using a blacklist issued by the Ministry of Interior, without the intervention of the judiciary.

Critics of the measure argued it might also allow the ISP-level blocking of websites considered by the authorities as undesirable, without judiciary control.

This may also give the French police authority to install spyware on PCs, without the users’ knowledge and without having to justify their actions, critics argued.

One MP who voted against the measure was Lionel Tardy, UMP (Haute-Savoie).

‘Make no mistake: whatever features you put in place, such sites are created and disappear like the wind,’ he said.

‘As soon as they feel identified, these people change their address. I do not see what device, what order, will fight in real time against stealth sites that will move without stopping, which can be deployed on mirror sites.

‘We’re here to pass a law. You can put whatever you want in place, connect fifty addresses of banned sites to which you want to operators or ISPs to block them, two minutes later you will see 200 new sites are created and people will continue to access them as before.

‘It is a reality. The problem is international. By legislating in the French framework, we have it all wrong.

‘We must act at the source of the servers. It is possible through international agreements, since we know the countries that pose problem.’

Socialist politician Patrick Bloche, meanwhile, said Article 4 ‘is not talking about victims or perpetrators, those who make these images and movies. It needs to hunt them.’

He regretted that the Assembly had not voted for the reinstatement of the judiciary, because ‘without the safeguards of the judge, there is a risk of collateral damage’ – that non-pedophile sites might also be filtered.

However, Eric Ciotti for the Government countered, ‘We share your desire to avoid the risk of over-blocking. However, we are under a measure that falls within the administrative police: the interference of a magistrate referent – whose mode of designation is to remain unclear – does not seem relevant. Remember, it is always possible to appeal before the administrative courts to challenge these lists.’

After passing through the French National Assembly, the text will go back to the Senate at the beginning of 2011.

The Australian Government’s ISP-level internet filtering proposal has raised similar fears of over-blocking and censorship. The regime was expected to be introduced after mid-2011, with the Government reviewing its blacklist in the meantime.

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