The European Union voted on November 14, to pass the new internet censorship regulation nominally in the name of consumer protection. But of course
censorship often hides behind consumer protection, eg the UK's upcoming internet porn ban is enacted in the name of protecting under 18 internet consumers.
The new EU-wide law gives extra power to national consumer protection agencies, but which also contains a vaguely worded clause that also grants them the power to block and take down websites without judicial oversight.
Member of the European Parliament Julia Reda said in a speech in the European Parliament Plenary during a last ditch effort to amend the law:
The new law establishes overreaching Internet blocking measures that are neither proportionate nor suitable for the goal of protecting consumers and come without mandatory judicial oversight,
According to the new rules, national consumer protection authorities can order any unspecified third party to block access to websites without requiring judicial authorization, Reda added later in the day on her blog .
This new law is an EU regulation and not a directive, meaning its obligatory for all EU states.
The new law proposal started out with good intentions, but sometimes in the spring of 2017, the proposed regulation received a series of amendments that watered down some consumer protections but kept intact the provisions that ensured national
consumer protection agencies can go after and block or take down websites.
Presumably multinational companies had been lobbying for new weapons n their battle against copyright infringement. For instance, the new law gives national consumer protection agencies the legal power to inquire and obtain information about
domain owners from registrars and Internet Service Providers.
Besides the website blocking clause, authorities will also be able to request information from banks to detect the identity of the responsible trader, to freeze assets, and to carry out mystery shopping to check geographical discrimination or
Comment: European Law Claims to Protect Consumers... By Blocking the Web
23rd November 2017 See article from eff.org
Last week the European Parliament passed a new Consumer Protection Regulation
[PDF] that allows national consumer authorities to order ISPs, web hosts and domain registries to block or delete websites... all without a court order. The websites targeted are those that allegedly infringe European consumer law. But European
consumer law has some perplexing provisions that have drawn ridicule, including a
prohibition on children blowing up balloons unsupervised
and a ban on excessively curvy bananas.
Because of these, the range of websites that could be censored is both vast and uncertain.
The Consumer Protection Regulation provides in Article 8(3)(e) that consumer protection authorities must have the power:
where no other effective means are available to bring about the cessation or the prohibition of the infringement including by requesting a third party or other public authority to implement such measures, in order to prevent the risk of serious
harm to the collective interests of consumers:
to remove content or restrict access to an online interface or to order the explicit display of a warning to consumers when accessing the online interface;
to order a hosting service provider to remove, disable or restrict the access to an online interface; or
where appropriate, order domain registries or registrars to delete a fully qualified domain name and allow the competent authority concerned to register it;
The risks of unelected public authorities being given the power to block websites was powerfully demonstrated in 2014, when the Australian company regulator ASIC
accidentally blocked 250,000 websites
in an attempt to block just a handful of sites alleged to be defrauding Australian consumers.
This likelihood of unlawful overblocking is just one of the reasons that the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and Opinion has underlined how web blocking often contravenes international human rights law. In a
[PDF], then Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue set out how extremely limited are the circumstances in which blocking of websites can be justified, noting that where:
the specific conditions that justify blocking are not established in law, or are provided by law but in an overly broad and vague manner, [this] risks content being blocked arbitrarily and excessively. ... [E]ven where justification is provided,
blocking measures constitute an unnecessary or disproportionate means to achieve the purported aim, as they are often not sufficiently targeted and render a wide range of content inaccessible beyond that which has been deemed illegal. Lastly,
content is frequently blocked without the intervention of or possibility for review by a judicial or independent body.
This describes exactly what the new Consumer Protection Regulation will do. It hands over a power that should only be exercised, if at all, under the careful scrutiny of a judge in the most serious of cases, and allows it to be wielded at the whim
of an unelected consumer protection agency. As explained by Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Julia Reda
, who voted against the legislation, it sets the stage for the construction of a censorship infrastructure that could be misused for purposes that we cannot even anticipate, ranging from copyright enforcement through to censorship of political
Regrettably, the Regulation is now law--and is required to be enforced by all European states. It is both ironic and tragic that a law intended to protect consumers actually poses such a dire threat to their right to freedom of expression.