EU internet proposals raise civil liberty fears

Civil liberty groups claim the new "telecoms package" due to go before the European Parliament in September will result in the loss of individual freedom on the internet, and breach the fundamental principles of human rights in Europe.

The French and Swedish pressure groups say the new powers will allow national governments to force internet service providers (ISPs) to hand over private information about their customers to the police. They claim three of the 800 amendments to the legislation will take away immunity enjoyed by the ISPs in regard to the material passing through their networks. At worst, the sorts of measures flowing from the legislation in the telecoms package could include a "three strikes and you're out" sanction to stop users illegally downloading songs or films from the internet.

Martyn Warwick, editor of Telecom TV, a specialist online television channel, said: "[It's] like suing the Post Office for not knowing what's in all the letters and parcels it delivers.

"Libertarians in Europe have picked up on this huge threat to privacy but so far in the UK no one seems to be aware of the dangers to personal liberty."

Telecom TV is running a campaign with the aim of putting pressure on MEPs to amend the measures.

The EU proposals are a big change to the established relationships between users, ISPs – which are essentially conduits – and content owners as they breach the internet's essential privacy and neutrality principles. The new legislation, known by supporters as the "copyright hooks", is being pushed for by the glo-bal music and film industries to protect their copyright.

In most European countries, particularly France and Italy, film and music industry leaders are close to their governments.

The UK government last week announced an agreement with the country's six ISPs for a draft Bill on the issue of copyright-breaking file-sharing. The Government wants the ISPs to adopt a code of practice to try to combat the problem. But the pressure groups argue that the same legislation would force ISPs to break their obligations to their own users, by sharing information posted by them online. However, the ISPs claim they have no intention of enforcing a "three strikes" law.

Among other amendments, the pressure groups are seeking to change proposals to make ISPs co-operate with other parties to enforce copyright, and to include clauses relating to copyright in customers' contracts.

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