EU should not attempt to censor the ‘Net

I was interviewed about this on RTE’s Prime Time TV programme, 5 July 2007. Adrian Lydon’s report, and my contribution to it, are available here. See also my letter to The Times (London), published on 6 July 2007.

Johnny Ryan on Prime Time

See EU JHA Commissioner Frattini’s remarks on a proposal to censor bomb-making material on the Internet, as reported in The Times on 4 July 2007. My response, published as a letter to the Editor, was published in The Times on 6 July 2007.

Text of Times letter [from http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/debate/letters/article2033755.ece]

 

July 6, 2007

Sir, On July 4 you reported that Franco Frattini, the EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner, will shortly announce plans to censor bomb-making instructions on the internet. Such measures must be opposed.

The global nature of the internet makes common EU action technically impossible and legally irrelevant in the absence of a binding international treaty and consensus on what material should be removed. At present there is nothing to prevent websites prohibited in the EU from migrating elsewhere.

The only practicable course, then, is for EU member states to prevent internet users gaining access to radical websites by requiring internet service providers to filter content requested by their customers at home. Such a system is already in place: ISPs such as BT attempt to prevent customers from inadvertently accessing child pornography. Extending this system to cover terrorist material would be expensive, porous, politically divisive and legally difficult.

Hybrid URL filtering would not censor individual posts and messages in the chat rooms and web forums where militant Islamist sympathisers congregate, although the filter will block other, benign material. “False positives” would result in expensive litigation, injure free speech and degrade the value of the internet to users in the EU. Furthermore, the dangers of functional creep, in which a censorship tool becomes gradually applicable to a wider set of content, is a legitimate political concern.

JOHNNY RYAN, Dublin

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