“Today is an important day in Europe for Net Neutrality, civil liberties and freedom of speech. Members of the European parliament will vote on civil rights amendments to the so-called “Telecoms Package”. Now as with all EU legislation the actual wording is rather opaque and confusing but I will use a few quotes to clarify what’s at stake here:
On Wednesday, 6 May at 12:00, both the ITRE (rapported by C. Trautmann) and the IMCO (rapported by M. Harbour) reports will come to a vote in the second reading of the Telecoms Package.
In last-minute negotiations with the EU Council, both rapporteurs agreed to water down in their reports the crucial safeguards for fundamental rights and freedoms of EU citizens:
- In the IMCO/Harbour report, amendment 166 was replaced by an empty version that has no more protective value. Some very light protection against “net discrimination”, where operators can choose what content, services and applications may be accessed or used through their networks, was also completely neutralized. The only protection left is now customer information through contracts, which is a scam, because customer and competition law cannot regulate fundamental rights (and they failed to regulate mobile communication networks, which are still agreed as cartels in most member states).
- In the ITRE/Trautmann report, amendment 138/46 was turned into a weaker version (yet still a clear political sign and legal reminder against the French “three strikes” HADOPI bill), that may require interpretation from a court of justice, and years of challenge, to counter “graduated response”/”three strikes” schemes. The compromise doesn’t impose anymore that any restriction be subject to a “prior ruling” by the judicial authority.
The Citizen Rights Amendments correct all these problems. They reinstate amendments 138/46 and 166, remove the open door to “three strikes” policies, and protect against abusive “net discrimination” practice by operators.
So if you(like me) think that Internet access should be open and not subject to censorship, review and governmental approval I urge you to contact your MEP today. There are good instructions & guidance on this website but I will summarize and quote for user convenience.
- Find a list of all your MEP’s here.
- See how they previously voted on the Telecoms Package.
- You can email them but a telephone call is much more effective at this short notice.
- If do send an email be polite and personal, mass emails do NOT work.
Here are the major points you should explain to the MEPs and their assistants:
- All MEPs must vote for the “Citizen’s Rights Amendments”, because safeguarding EU citizens’ fundamental rights and freedom is the most important mission of the European Parliament. No compromise should be accepted on freedom, not even to make the EU procedure go faster.
- Direct opposition to the EU Council is preferable to retreating from fundamental rights and freedoms, especially concerning the Internet, which is structuring the future of our societies. Moreover, the Citizens’ Rights Amendments do not directly oppose the compromise negotiated with the Council: they strengthen it.
- Right before the elections, it’s a perfect way to show the usefulness of the European Parliament and its commitment to protecting EU citizens, and to send them a strong signal.
- “Net Discrimination”, which gives operators the right to limit access to content, applications, and services over the Internet, is NOT just a market and competition problem, because the Internet is today essential to the exercise of fundamental rights.
- The failure of competition laws to regulate the behaviour of mobile operators is a blatant example of why we need a strong regulation to protect the structure of the Internet against “net discrimination”.
- Amendment 138 was approved by 88% of the European Parliament in first reading on September 24, 2008. It has been accepted by the Commission, and Mrs Reding herself said that “The Commission considers this amendment to be an important restatement of key legal principles of the Community legal order, especially of citizens’ fundamental rights.” It has been accepted again in the ITRE committee by a vote of 40 to 4.
- Amendment 138 protects users’ rights. It reinforces a fundamental principle of European law: except where public security is directly threatened, only a judge can impose conditions — a sentence under law — that restrict a citizen’s fundamental rights and freedoms.
The original amendment 138:
Applying the principle that no restriction may be imposed on the fundamental rights and freedoms of end-users, without a “prior ruling by the judicial authorities,” notably in accordance with Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union on freedom of expression and information, save when public security is threatened in which case the ruling may be subsequent.
I emailed all Irish MEP’s a few days ago. Unfortunatly it was no suprise that only two bothered to reply even though I received read confirmations from most of them. The first one to get back to me was Kathy Sinnot office. For openeness I will quote her reply verbatim:
Thank you for taking the time to write to me on this very important issue.
- I have and I always will actively support net neutrality. I spoke this morning during the Telecoms debate in the Parliament in Strasbourg. You can find the text of my speech below or follow this link to watch it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqR92v7Toag
Tomorrow’s vote in the Telecoms Package will be very important for the future of net neutrality and therefore freedom of democracy. I will keep you informed of the results of the vote. Hopefully it will go well.
Kathy Sinnott, MEP for Munster
Text of speech by Kathy Sinnott on Net Neutrality
The internet has changed the world as we know it. Information that would be difficult or impossible to find is now only seconds away. But the defining characteristic of the internet is not its speed or its technology, it is its freedom. Freedom to express opinion, freedom to exchange information, freedom to share ideas. Some are advocating a restricted future. One where the free movement of data is stemmed. Where big business is allowed to stifle innovation. Where Internet providers become gatekeepers. We’ve seen this approach before…. in China. I hope we can choose to retain the freedom that has brought such success and changed our world for the better. At a time when our economies need all the help they can get, we need to choose openness for progress, not short term protectionism for profit. On behalf of my constituents I will vote for our freedom of information and our future free access to internet for all lawful use and in this way protect democracy and an economy with opportunity for all.
The second one to get back to me was Mary Lou McDonald. Mary Lou’s response was as follows:
Thanks for your correspondence on the issue of the upcoming European Parliament vote on the “Telecoms Package”. My political group (GUE/NGL) has succeeded in winning significant victories already in the first reading on this report.
For the second reading my political group has tabled the package of citizens’ amendments which aim to restore some balance to the proposal by putting citizens’ rights above those of the service providers. I took the opportunity to speak in the plenary on this issue. The following is the text of my speech:
This “Telecoms package” is one of great interest to many citizens in Ireland and across the EU and rightly so.
“As MEPs I hope we can send a strong message on behalf of those citizens that we are in favour of a free internet where the privacy of users and their rights are respected fully. We must stand behind the block of citizens” amendments that have been tabled as the best way of defending the rights of our citizens. These amendments if passed will restore some sort of balance between end-users’ rights and freedoms and the rights and freedoms of others, including the right to intellectual property protection and the right to privacy. The aim of this proposal should be to protect those who need protection but also to strengthen the rights of citizens to access information within the law when and where they see fit. Service providers should be made act in a transparent manner at all times and if in very exceptional cases restrictions to access are required they should be fully accountable in justifying these restrictions. National powers should have a role in investigating any restriction service providers impose.
I hope this parliament will stand with our citizens this week in supporting the “citizens’ amendments” package and thereby stand-up in favour of the freedom of the internet users and civil liberties in Europe.”
I regret however that due to a late change in the agenda of the plenary session I will be unable to be present for the vote as I have previous commitments in Ireland that cannot be reorganised at such short notice.
I hope this information is useful.
Please note that while Mary Lou is very outspoken on this issue and emphasises it’s importance she won’t be present to actually vote on it. make of this what you wish…
I see it as a clear sign that in a time when un-obstructed information dissemnation via the internet through media such as blogs, Twitter etc. the call from the “establishment” to put a halt to this is getting stronger and more militant. In addition while information dissimination via the Internet is largely open and transparent, proposed legislation to halt this is quite often hidden inside other proposal or written in opaque language.