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Harbour and Trautmann make a Faustian pact with the Council. Internet users rights  exchanged for an easy ride. Unless the  European Parliament flexes its muscle next week, this horrendous  Package will be law by June. And Mr Harbour -  rapporteur for the "users rights" directive  - complains that the users got in the way of his negotiations with industry. 


News agencies this evening are reporting a back-room deal in which the European Parliament has sold Internet users rights in favour of a bad law that the UK and French governments  want. It will also suit the large telecommunications companies, but smaller operators and other industries stand to lose out.  Amendment 138, voted by a majority in the committee vote last week, has been altered to facilitate a quasi-legal Hadopi,  in an about-face by the rapporteur Catherine Trautmann.   MEP Malcolm Harbour's UK-driven amendments to permit Internet blocking by network operators are now officially part of the Telecoms Package.


An AFP report says that Mrs Trautman has agreed to

change the wording of amendment 138 to  "le droit à un jugement par un tribunal indépendant et impartial". Reuters says this <<The compromise is seen as using broader language than previously and drops a reference to the need for a judicial ruling for cutting off Internet access.>>


The ‘independent tribunal' will  permit the French government's Hadopi - a public authority set up jointly between righs-holders and the government to police copyright on theInternet and implement the 3-strikes policy. It is unlikely to cover the UK's proposed rights agency however, which is intended to be a privately-run organisation.


The users rights directive has been reversed into an operators' rights directive,  as I have previously reported. Amendment 166, which asks Member States to provide some guarantees for users rights,  has been dumped (according to the official line it was re-written, but when you examine the text this is blatantly not the case). In its place is an amendment which enshrines the operator's right to block Internet users traffic, and comes very close to permitting graduated response.


Mrs Trautmann is also quoted by AFP talking about a study by the European Commission into fundamental rights on the Internet. This is the first time I have heard of such a proposition. My reaction is that whilst it sounds good, it is not an acceptable option under the current circumstances. The pact between Harbour, Trautmann and the Council is intended such that this very bad law will be carried.


A law like this, that permits limiting and blocking of the Internet - potentially being the start of the break up of the network into small segments -  is a removal of a right that we have enjoyed for the last seventeen years. It will take us back to the 1980s, when were all on different networks. It will  sweep away all the benefits of the knowledge economy that the EU has worked so hard to promote. It will kill any industry that has followed the policy-makers wishes and invested in the e-economy. It will mean that the telcos are the gateways to the democratic media.


In a quote from Reuters, Malcolm Harbour no longer even bothers to pretend that he is delivering a good package for users. He makes it clear the industry comes first :  "two years of negotiations" were nearly lost.  "It has been deeply frustrating to feel this one issue which was not in any way at the centre of what we were doing could derail two years of work," Reuters reports Mr Harbour as saying.

So it is difficult to believe his earlier claims that his revisions to the Package will benefit users   (claims he also makes  in the cut-and-paste letter that he has given other UK Conservative MEPs to send in reply to concerned users). It stands up to rigorous analysis as being very bad for users, and  for the open Internet, ( and I have sought opinions from lawyers on my analysis).  

Indeed, Malcolm Harbour's  attitude is quite astonishing for the rapporteur in charge of the directive with the official title of 'Universal services and users rights'. In essence, he says that users' demands to have their rights to use Internet protected by the elected Parliament, come second to secret, long term negotiations between himself and some unknown industry lobbyists. Industry first, users last.

What's also interesting is the" two years". The Telecoms Package was only released in November 2007, which by my calculation is less than two years. It would be appropriate for his colleagues on the IMCO committee, and in the Parliament, who did not oppose him previously, to seriously question his report before it is too late. We should all be entitled to know the nature and content  of these negotiations. 


MEPs who oppose graduated response should vote for the alternative amendments from Eva-Britt Svensson, who is re-tabling the original Amendments 138 and 166 to protect users rights , as well as a small package of amendments to enable their implementation in the law.


 Read the Reuters report on the Telecoms Package sell-out

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed. The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2009) Internet rights sold down the line by European Parliament, iptegrity.com, 28 April 2009. 




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About Iptegrity

Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I am an  independent policy advisor, with expertise in online safety, technology and human rights. I am a published author, and post-doctoral scholar. I hold a PhD from the University of Westminster, and a DipM from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. I cover the UK and EU. I'm a former tech journalist, and an experienced panelist and Chair. My media credits include the BBC, iNews, Times, Guardian and Politico.

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