Digital Civil Rights in Europe

Article published in EDRi-gram 7.7 – 8 April 2009

The new developments on the Telecom Package over the last two weeks, with the approval of a new text in the IMCO (Internal Market Committee) of the European Parliament (EP) and the initiation of the trialogue between EU Council, the European Commission and the Parliament in order to reach an agreement on the final text, shows the worst situation for Internet users.

Although much of the MEPs seem happy with the new text that allows “simplifying life for telecom users”, they seem to forget that other articles are raising much bigger problems for Internet users, especially related to the 3 strikes proposal or to privacy on the Internet. And facing the June 2009 Euro-elections, MEPs need to support the users’ rights also for the second reading of the text, which will probably take place during the first week of May.

Thus, the much praised Amendment 138 adopted by a large majority of the MEPs in the first instance has been turned up-side-down by the COREPER (Committee of Permanent Representatives), which transformed it from a substantive law provision (an amendment to the directive) into a simple recital and completly change it in a pro-copyright amendment. Thus the new text says “no restriction may be imposed on the fundamental rights of end-users, without a prior decision taken by legally competent authorities”.

By changing the initial text: “judicial authorities”, the new text opens the backdoor for the recently adopted 3 strikes law in France and shows the weaknesses of the European Parliament rapporteur, Catherine Trautmann, that gave in to pressure from the UK and France.

And this is not the only case where the EP has given in. In relation with the scope of the data breach notification obligation for the providers of telephony and Internet access services, this has been radically limited comparing with the initial text adopted in the first reading by the EP. It seems that the new text already negotiated in the trialogue discussions will apply only for the the data breaches by electronic communication providers, which is a major hold-back taking into consideration that most of the “headlines” data breaches belonged to Government services, banks and online services. The new text just forgets the excellent points made by Article 29 Working Group and the European Data Protection Supervisor, that pushed for a larger constituency for this obligation.

Even though the European Parliament’s Telecoms Package rapporteur, Catherine Trautmann, and the European Commissioner of Information Society, Viviane Reding had been publicly supportive of the net neutrality principle, it seems that the negotiations might accept an amendment that will not give users “unrestricted rights” of access to the Internet.

The new situation prompted a response from several Internet communications companies such as Google, Microsoft and Skype that, gathered as the Voice on the Net Coalition Europe urged “the European decision-makers to adopt principles to allow consumers to access the services, applications and content of their choice on any public network, regardless of the provider that offers them.” This move comes also after the announcement of T-Mobile in Germany or Telefonica in Spain to block Skype on iPhones.

There is also a glimpse of good news, after it has been decided by the IMCO that “voluntary data retention” clause should to be deleted. It also seems that this compromise amendment will survive the trialogue negotiations.

Telecoms package: strengthening users’ rights and internet security

Distorted amendment 138 tries to present graduated response as legal

European Parliament compromises on Internet rights (31.03.2009)

Trautmann deal wraps up Internet limitations (1.04.2009)

Leading Providers of Voice Solutions over the Internet Protest Against
Blocking or Degrading of VoIP applications over mobile networks, after
T-Mobile announcement (3.04.2009)

Internet rights being written out as Spain blocks Skype (7.04.2009)

EDRi-gram:Data protection authorities support civil society on the Telecom
Package (25.02.2009)

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