Panel on internet censorship around EMEA

Affiliation:Humboldt University of Berlin

Abstract: Internet filtering is used in the EU for regulating online gambling operators, copyright and other services that do not comply with the requirements determined by the EU national legislation. Even if this methodology complies with the primary and secondary EU law, does it restrict freedom of establishment and service flow? Is the blocking infrastructure "compatible" within countries that have laws that do not allow the usage of internet filtering/blocking tools (e.g.: Lithuania) and how effective such blocking regulations as they can easily be circumvented. The EU parliament pushes new articles for a new terrorism regulation (election tactic) asking for faster and drastic reaction to combat terrorist content. The draft proposal (https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/soteu2018-preventing-terrorist-content -online-regulation-640_en.pdf) for a regulation preventing dissemination of terrorist content contains 3 main measures:

1. Creates orders issued by (undefined) national authorities to remove or disable access to illegal terrorist content within an hour.

2. Competent authorities can choose to make referrals of terrorist-related potential breaches of companies’ terms of service that would be subject to the voluntary consideration of the companies themselves.

3. Legislates on (undefined) proactive measures that can lead to an authority requesting a general monitoring obligation.

Already gambling and copyright regulations in Europe are often used extensively to restrict access to internet resources that were never meant to be blocked. Some of the negative effects of internet blocking and filtering regulations include collateral damage (e.g.: disruption of email delivery), overblocking (e.g.: entries removed from the official blocklists but still blocked) and accidental blocking (e.g.: resources that were wrongfully identified –false positives). Usually ISPs are obliged to comply with the filtering regulations and were forced to design and implement --at their own expense-- a blocking system and filtering infrastructure that has the capabilities to block internet resources. ISPs make use of the same blocking infrastructure to block resources such as the Catalonian referendum websites. More and more censorship is being asked to cover cases of extremism, hate speech and copyright enforcement. The idea that censoring the internet is much more effective and easier rather than removing "illegal" websites from the internet and has gained a lot of supporters lately even among entities that do not completely understand how the internet works. Unfortunately they are calling for stronger and more effective censorship such as the automated upload filters; a mechanism announced by the EU proposed as a solution to combat illegal content online that will be able to: "take swift decisions [...] without being required to do so on the basis of a court order or administrative decision”. This automated content control will act proactively and block online content based on a set of algorithms without any human intervention or a court order. While internet filtering regulations and censorship is increasing in Europe it threatens more and more freedom of expression and the universal human rights. An example is the violations and abuses of the Spanish government against its citizens and non-violent political activists during the referendum in Catalonia). We want to start a discourse on the overlooked trend of EU member states establishing censorship and surveillance infrastructures in order to comply with EU legislation for preventive dissemination measures of terrorist content, gambling regulations, copyright enforcement, extremism and hate speech. We plan to showcase how those same infrastructures have progressively employed for politically motivated network interference. Our aim is to urge for an EU-level collaboration to oppose laws that introduce technology that threatens our digital rights. Moreover, we want to shift the focus of the IF community to also consider the threats to the netizens of the Western world.

Bio: Vasilis Ververis is a PhD candidate with the Humboldt University of Berlin. It researches the technical implications of Internet blocking infrastructure and works to reclaim self-hosted technical infrastructures and services, censorship circumvention, anonymity and antisocial media.