EU Censorship Plan With A Cheesy Name: The Clean IT Project

from the voluntary-until-we-make-it-compulsory dept

A couple of weeks ago, Techdirt reported on UK politicians calling for ISPs to “take down” terrorist content. Now it seems that the idea has not only spread to other European countries, but even acquired a cheesy name: “the Clean IT Project“.

The internet plays a central role and is of great strategic importance for terrorists and extremist networks. These networks know that propaganda is a critical tool for generating funding, recruits and support for their cause within these communities. Historically they have used a variety of media channels, such as television, radio and publishing, in order to communicate their views. During the past decade of huge global growth of the internet, Al Qaida influenced extremists for example, have made increasing use of this medium. The internet and its fast and anonymous means can contribute to individual radicalization processes. There are concerns about the illegal use of the internet for terrorist purposes and the misuse of legal / neutral websites. The question is if we can limit the use of internet for terrorist purposes, without affecting our online freedom. Therefore this project is based on a public-private dialogue.

Those last two sentences are particularly ominous. First, because they show no awareness that any attempt to “clean” the Internet inevitably affects everyone else’s online freedom. Given that there are no hard and fast rules about what is terrorism, the past teaches us that there is always collateral damage in the form of over-reaction — not least because people understandably err on the side of caution in this area.

The other reason we ought to fear this new initiative is that it is based on getting the private sector to act as online police, using a “non-legislative” approach:

The main objective of this project is to develop a non-legislative ‘framework’ that consists of general principles and best practices. The general principles will be developed through a bottom up process where the private sector will be in the lead. Through a series of workshops and conferences, the private and public sector will define their problems and try to draw up principles. These principles can be used as a guideline or gentlemen’s agreement, and can be adopted by many partners. They will describe responsibilities and concrete steps public and private partners can take to counter the illegal use of Internet.

This is of a piece with similar attempts to get ISPs to spy on their users, or search engines to censor their results: since everything is done through a non-legislative ‘framework’, there is no oversight and no formalized legal recourse. It’s part of a general move to control the Internet through extra-judicial means, thus avoiding all the risks of a democratic debate or the need to produce any evidence that the measures are effective and proportionate. Significantly, it’s also one of ACTA’s key (bad) ideas.

Even though the project is being sold as a voluntary “gentlemen’s agreement”, the reality is that lurking in the background is the usual implicit threat:

The covenant, the principles and the practices should be non-legislative because they will be adopted on a voluntary basis with support from the industry. It should also be possible to implement them quickly in any European Member State, or even worldwide. Nevertheless, it is possible that one of the results will be a call for better regulation by governments.

That is, if industry doesn’t adopt the principles and practices — and implement them “quickly”, too — it will be forced to do so through legislation.

It’s not even clear that “limiting terrorist use of internet” is the best way to fight terrorism. There is an argument that it would be better for as much terrorist activity as possible to take place where security agencies can keep it under close surveillance. Shutting down the more obvious sites and means of communication will simply drive terrorists deeper underground, and make it harder to monitor and thus counter them.

So once more, we have the worst of both worlds: while the rights of the general public are diminished further in the name of “combatting terrorism”, the actual fight will be made more difficult.

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Comments on “EU Censorship Plan With A Cheesy Name: The Clean IT Project”

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32 Comments
Hulser (profile) says:

Oh the stupidity

The question is if we can limit the use of internet for terrorist purposes, without affecting our online freedom.

This “question” makes my brain hurt. It’s not a question; it’s an obvious contradiction. You cannot, by definition, limit something without adversely affecting freedom. This is the same kind of intellectually dishonest thinking that politicians use when saying that PIPA/SOPA isn’t censorship. What they really mean is that “Restricting what people can say isn’t censorship if I don’t agree with what they are saying. ‘Censorship’ is bad, but what I’m doing is good; therefore this isn’t censorship.”

Anonymous Coward says:

There is an argument that it would be better for as much terrorist activity as possible to take place where security agencies can keep it under close surveillance.

The best way to prevent terrorism is to prevent conditions from becoming so terrible that people think it’s their best option. The best way to prevent conditions from becoming terrible is to (gasp!) actually pay attention, and to have a mind open to the thought that maybe, just maybe, someone’s complaints are valid. The best way to pay attention is to read and listen and think…all of which are facilitated by the Internet, among other things.

Dialogue today is much cheaper and easier than military action tomorrow.

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

The high cost of peace

In order for dialogue to take place there’d have to be a desire for peace.

The powers that be would love nothing more than nice obvious terrorists they could use as an excuse for all-out war against the rights of its citizens.

Lacking credible enemies, they’ve had to busy themselves with make cardboard cut-out terrorists so as to keep the FUD going until they finish setting up a real at-home terrorist organization.

Peace, public good, these things are not a concern.
[/conspiracy theorizing]

Hulser (profile) says:

Apparent transparency

From the FAQ on the Clean IT Project web site…

At the first workshop in Amsterdam only a few ISP?s were participating. In the second one in Madrid we have more participants from the internet industry and also some NGO’s. We will however not share names in public without their permission. Companies might be a bit reserved to link their corporate reputation to a project without knowing precisely what the end-result will look like.

Translation: Since we’re starting from a false premise that the best approach is censorship, we already know that the end-result it going to be controversial, so we want to hide as much as possible until it’s already too late for you pesky citizens to do anything about it.

Take note, this is the post PIPA/ACTA model: give lip service to transparency, but still keep all of the essential dealing behind closed doors.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Oh the stupidity

Might I take this moment to point out that I am sure England thought the actions of the colonials organizing and forming the USA about the same as “terrorist actions”.

The ENTIRE point of having freedom of speech is that you are allowed to speak ill of the government. That is why it was put into the US constitution.

I recognize this is particular post is not talking of the US but I am not as familiar with European laws in that regard. The main point though is that those in power are trying to take away peoples right to talk negatively about them. They are doing this simply by pointing at the boogie man in the corner they are calling “terrorists”.

I for one have ZERO fear of these “terrorists”. They have proven to be relativity stupid and of little real threat. I AM AFRAID of what the GOVERNMENT is doing.

The actions of the terrorists do not in any way affect my day to day life. Even if we dropped all security these guys well over half the time get caught because they can’t get their bomb to detonate. We are talking about something a damn USA high school student would have no trouble with. That is a very LOW standard.

The government on the other hand does greatly affect the day to day lives of everyone. Especially here in the US where you have to be sexually molested in order to get on a plane.

Anonymous Coward says:

what an absolute load of crap! if anyone could actually identify what was/not ‘terrorism’ and could actually do something about it, even without causing any ‘collateral damage’, how long would it be before the entertainment industries jumped in and started abusing it, same as they do with everything and send the whole lot to rat shit? at a guess, i’d say about 2 weeks. all this is going to be is another SOPA/PIPA/ACTA/TPPA type of ‘agreement’ meant to try to give control over to those that want it so badly but haven’t yet got it! also funny how the fact that the Internet has been instrumental in ousting certain governments because people were able to organise themselves properly. as has been said before, the net is fine when being used how governments want it to be used (booking a holiday and checking e-mail). doing what they dont want you to do, regardless of what that may be, has got to be stamped out! changing the way they approach the subject doesn’t change what they want to achieve in the end!

Graham J (profile) says:

FIFY

“The internet plays a central role and is of great strategic importance for governments and extremist media companies. These governments/corporations know that propaganda is a critical tool for generating funding, recruits and support for their cause within their ridings/markets. Historically they have used a variety of media channels, such as television, radio and publishing, in order to communicate their views. During the past decade of huge global growth of the internet, the US government and media corporation-influenced extremists for example, have made increasing use of this medium. The internet and its fast and anonymous means can contribute to governmental/corporate radicalization processes. There are concerns about the illegal use of the internet for copyright purposes and the misuse of legal / neutral websites. The question is if we can limit the use of the internet for governmental and copyright purposes, without affecting our online freedom. Therefore this project is based on a private dialogue.”

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