Internet service providers are increasingly being given policing powers that were traditionally within the jurisdiction of law enforcement agencies, degenerating to such an extent that widespread censorship has been employed, according to a new report by European Digital Rights.
The report, called The Slide From “Self-Regulation” To Corporate Censorship, reveals a stark online landscape with ISPs acting more like secret police than internet providers. It highlights the repercussions of voluntary self-regulation of the internet and its impact on free speech.
One of the primary findings was the term “self-regulation” itself is a bit of a misnomer and that it is being used to disguise a far more sinister code of practice, which employs monitoring, judgement and sanctioning of websites and consumers over “allegedly illegal” behaviour.
The report accuses a number of institutions, including the European Commission, of attempting to coerce the industry “to engage in a vigilante system of monitoring and sanctioning.”
Examples of such proposals include the 2010 EC suggestion of giving incentives to companies who seek out and block content deemed illegal; an attempt by the Council of Europe’s Assembly in 2010 to increase the legal obligations of intermediaries,such as ISPs, despite contradicting the 2003 Declaration on the freedom of communication on the internet; OECD attempts in 2010 to also increase intermediary responsibility; the ACTA draft, which forces ISPs to police their networks and enforce bans; and EU bilateral free trade agreements with India and Korea, which include provisions that also require additional intermediary liability.
The recent pulling of support for Wikileaks by Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and Everydns was cited as an example of how companies are being pressured to take action against allegedly illegal online activity without the matter being brought before the traditional legal system, which is better able to deal with the issue of legality and appropriate penalty.
The report highlighted the benefits of the openess of the internet, which it said has “enhanced democracy, has shaken dictatorships and has boosted economies.” The potential negative affect of supposed “self-regulation” on those freedoms and benefits could be catastrophic.