July 5, 2007

EU: Let's Be Like China

The EU wants to ban the communication of bomb-making instructions on the Internet. That might seem rational, even for some free-speech advocates, since even in the US free speech does not cover incitements to violence. However, the EU's plans go too far in holding ISPs criminally responsible for the actions of their customers, and they may find themselves doing more damage than good as a result:

Placing instructions on how to make a bomb on the internet will become a criminal offence across Europe under plans outlined by Brussels yesterday.

Arguments about freedom of expression will not be allowed to stand in the way of criminalising the publication of bomb-making information that could be used by terrorists, a senior EU official said.

It will be part of a range of antiterrorist proposals to be published in the autumn that will also include the collection of airline passenger data from every flight in and out of the EU. The extension of measures was promised yesterday by Franco Frattini, the EU Justice Commissioner, after the British car bomb plot and the murder of Spanish tourists in Yemen.

Internet service providers (ISPs) would face charges if they failed to block websites containing bomb-making instructions generated anywhere in the world, EU officials said.

In one sense, this effort seems quixotic at best. The Internet does not have the kind of central, global control that would keep this information off the network. If such plans exist on servers outside the EU's control, users can find it easily enough. A quick Google demonstrates just how easy that can be, and unless the EU plans on isolating its DNS servers to only EU servers, this law will be next to useless.

The attempt to criminalize ISPs is even more daft. If the EU means hosting services when it flags ISPs, then hosting services will simply move outside of the EU's control. Hosts simply cannot police the websites of all customers on a constant basis to check for compliance. It would create a massive oversight burden for the providers that would drive costs through the roof, and they would lose most of their business as a result. Even in a complaint-based system, they could suspend accounts, just to have the information return in another form in new accounts, and that exposure to constant criminal liability would drive smaller players from the market.

However, it looks like the EU means to hold all classes of ISPs responsible, including those that just provide Internet access. They want the ISPs to block sites where such information is available:

EU officials denied that it would be impossible to track down websites based in remote places, insisting that the local provider based in the EU could be held to account. One said: “You always need a provider here that gives you access to websites. They can decide technically which websites to allow. Otherwise how would China block internet sites? There are no technological obstacles, only legal ones.”

Well, that's certainly a great example to follow. The EU wants their Internet access to resemble China's. European i-surfers can look forward to losing access to blogs, foreign nodes, and pretty much everything but CNN and Microsoft. China imposes its blackouts on a rather broad basis, and still Beijing finds it difficult to control the exchange of communication it fears so much.

This portends darker days for Europe's freedom of information. What else do the elders of the EU want to keep from their citizens? Once this kind of system is in place, it could easily be used to block out any other information deemed dangerous by the star chamber in Brussels. Today they'll drop Big Brother onto the Internet to keep people from learning what they can find in dozens of books on bombs, physics, and the like. Tomorrow they may decide that conservative politics might be too dangerous to the EU, or that criticism such as this should be kept from Europeans for their own safety.

After all, China does that, too.


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Comments (13)

Posted by Eugene Podrazik | July 5, 2007 7:09 AM

This is just like the rationale for gun control. The control being proposed is obstensively for public safety. But, this proposal does put in place all the necessary mechanisms for further control for what ever reason--conservative viewpoints come to mind. Or, in pre-islamic Europe, infidel viewpoints?

Posted by KauaiBoy | July 5, 2007 7:13 AM

Hey Europe----here is an idea that may nip this in the bud. How about silencing the radical Muslim clerics who espouse violence and seek to overthrow your culture. How about holding them accountable when one of their flock goes forth and blows himself up.

Posted by mrlynn | July 5, 2007 7:26 AM

During World War II, the US government imposed all sorts of censorship on the media and citizens generally, including the publication of any material that was construed as giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Of course there was no Internet then.

If in the Fall of 2001 President Bush had asked for and received a Declaration of War from Congress, he could have—and arguably should have—been able to impose similar restrictions on this country.

What this means is that somnolent Europe is beginning to wake up to the threat that Islamism poses to Western civllization.

It probably will take another September 11th before the people of the United States stop denying the threat and realize that we are already at war. Then you can expect to see even more draconian measures here.

Take a look at Tony Blankley's The West's Last Chance: Will We Win the Clash of Civilizations?

/Mr Lynn

Posted by I R A Darth Aggie | July 5, 2007 7:37 AM

Hmmm...smells like the Great Firewall of Europe!

Posted by PersonFromPorlock | July 5, 2007 7:53 AM

Well, you have to understand that in Europe, 'freedom' is what's left over after 'order' is provided for. Which is to say, not much.

Posted by Lew | July 5, 2007 8:03 AM

Why on earth should anyone be surprised that the EU finds it warmly congenial to emulate policies of control and manipulation found in China? Is it hard to understand the notion that the collapse of the Soviet Union was only a temporary setback to the world-wide fan club of socialism?

China is now the new exemplar of successful implementation of Socialist enlightenment and progress, just as 90 years ago it was Bolshevik Russia and its Soviet successor. We should therefore be alert to the emergence of a new wave of vapid intellectual shills who will defend the new benevolent despotism, and breathlessly deny its plainly visible lack of benevolence, to every available camera and in every seminar and salon. China and Europe, at bottom, have essentially the same values!

Posted by patrick neid | July 5, 2007 8:59 AM

"This portends darker days for Europe's freedom of information. What else do the elders of the EU want to keep from their citizens? Once this kind of system is in place, it could easily be used to block out any other information deemed dangerous by the star chamber in Brussels."

This is the system that is coming and it already exists in large part. More disturbing is the fact that Europeans by and large are embracing it. The EU is simply looking for the proper excuses to implement more of it. Everything Orwell wrote is about the EU he knew was coming, somewhere, sometime.

We should take heed as Europe is our canary. Laugh as you may it wasn't yesterday that folks here were trying to revive the "fairness" doctrine.

Posted by rbj | July 5, 2007 9:26 AM

The first step was when France forced Ebay & Yahoo to take down their Nazi memorabilia auctions (IIRC). This is step #2. Step #3 will be any criticism of the EU government itself.

Glad I have my copy of The Anarchist's Cookbook in hardcopy.

Posted by braindead | July 5, 2007 1:20 PM

The New "Dark Ages".

Seems to me the last one was also associated with a Muslim surge.

Posted by patrick neid | July 5, 2007 2:53 PM


apparently yours appears to still be working.

Posted by gattsuru | July 5, 2007 2:56 PM

They can decide technically which websites to allow. Otherwise how would China block internet sites? There are no technological obstacles, only legal ones.

The ignorance here is impressive.

You can deny access to certain IPs and certain URLs. There are 4,294,967,296 IPv4 IPs, and IPv6 has billions upon billions (~3.4 * 10 ^ 38). Each IP can host multiple websites, every website can have content changing on a regular basis. There are potentially infinite URLs.

Just searching those places for documents for the phrase "bomb" would require more energy than exists inside the universe according to modern theory. Actually effective or efficient scanning would require human intervention, and as there must be more people not working for the government than there are working for it, this too proves impossible.

Posted by unclesmrgol | July 6, 2007 12:26 AM


URLs are based partly upon IPs. Hence, all the europeans have to do is to build their own root servers (for DNS -- something they have already done because they are afraid the Americans might sever the Internet in event of war), If their DNS servers only serve good euro domains, problem solved for them. Then, they just have to prevent their boundry routers from routing to non-European IPs (if you have looked at how IANA allocates IP blocks by region, that seems pretty easy too). The Europeans don't need a government service to monitor -- they just have to make it a crime and any of a million law-abiding EU citizens will, the moment they notice the "bomb" on a site, report that site to the authorities.

What looks like an impossibility suddenly becomes possible under these circumstances.

How did the Chinese prevent Google from indexing the sites of dissidents? Answer: a little visit from the political police. How did the Chinese prevent Myspace from hosting dissident sites? A little talk to the wife of the owner, that all.

Finally, how come Ebay doesn't sell Nazi memorabilia in France?

The Europeans, like the Chinese, are certainly capable of taking a legal path which differs substantially from the American "safe harbor" legal position -- and, in fact, have done so in the past.

Posted by Paul in NJ | July 6, 2007 11:44 AM

Remember that old chestnut that "the dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe."

Recall that the Council of Europe outlawed freedom of expression several years ago when it required EU states to "criminalise the dissemination of racist and xenophobic material through computer systems". See this post by Steven den Beste for the background.

This is simply the next step in their descent.