The Closing of the Net  "original and valuable"  Times Higher Education

Malcolm Harbour, rapporteur for users rights in the Telecoms Package, has  attacked colleagues who supported an amendment which protects the right to  freedom of expression in respect of the Internet.


In an email circulated to all MEPs, Malcolm Harbour has attacked the  Liberal group in the European Parliament. He accuses them of  stalling the entire Telecoms Package  and says that the Amendment 138, which seeks to protect users rights in respect of freedom of expression and the Internet is not important  and ‘unconnected with any of the main changes in the Telecoms Package'. His complaint  rings hollow, given that an important users rights amendment in his directive was replaced by one that permits restriction of users rights, and the replacement was  never voted on by either his committee (IMCO) or the full Parliament. 


 His email reveals that there was a last-minute meeting of the Liberal party group, which took the decision to

support Amendment 138. Apparently, the move was led by German MEP Alexander Alvaro, who has a reputation as a supporter of Internet rights and has been responsible for the e-privacy directive.  The email also reveals a split in the Socialist group, apparently not backing the rapporteur, Catherine Trautmann, and attacks the very few members of his own EPP group who voted in favour of Amendment 138. 


What is interesting about Mr Harbour's email, is that he is commenting on a directive that was not his responsibility, and he attacks a move to protect users rights, when he is the rapporteur for the Users Rights directive. It states:


"What issue has been considered so important that Parliament has forced this delay? It is an issue that is unconnected with any of the main changes in the telecoms package - the proposed copyright enforcement laws in France."


"This amendment (Variously described as Am. 138 or 46 by internet lobbyists) was rejected by Council on the grounds that any decision on internet service disconnection is the responsibility of Member States,  under their legal system. Many member Governments rejected the ambitions

of Parliament to impose conditions under which they applied their criminal or civil law. "


This is new information, since the Council has never given any justification for their rejection of Amendment 138, or the other users rights amendments.


Furthermore, the statement that  Amendment 138 "is unconnected with any of the main changes in the telecoms package" is incorrect. Copyright enforcment does not belong in the Telecoms Package, but it got in there by stealth, and arguably has been the reason for many of the problems with the Package - in spite of the attempts of MEPs to pretend otherwise.


Amendments intended to put 3-strikes measures into the Telecoms Package were tabled by his colleagues Jacques Toubon and Ruth Hieronymi, among others, in the first reading this time last year.  A compromise amendment inserted by Mr Harbour during the first reading, ( at the request of M. Toubon) put ‘cooperation' between ISPs and the ‘sectors interested in the promotion of lawful content'  into his own directive.


As I have previously reported, Mr Harbour tabled  measures into the Universal Services and Users Rights directive which threaten the rights of Internet users to access content, services and applications - measures which  legitimise blocking practices by network operators, with the text ‘conditions limiting access to and /or use of services and applications'.  It is still unclear what will happen with the Universal Services and Users Rights directive  - if  a way is found to separate it from the rest of the Package, these blocking practices  - for example, the blocking of Skype or peer-to-peer sites -  will become legal. The long term effect will be to cut the Internet up into separate packages, or semi-private networks. This threat still exists, in spite of Amendment 138.


In his public statement on the European Parliament website, Mr Harbour has acknowledged that these ‘conditions' are indeed about restricting users access - as pointed out by the group he also attacks in this statement, Blackout Europe. Incidentally, I have been informed that the European Parliament webmaster has refused to publish Blackout Europe's response , which was emailed to all MEPs, although they have published some other comments. This refusal does not look good for democracy in Europe, nor does it bode well for any EU attempts to address users rights in respect of the Internet.


The issue now, is whether Mr Harbour's directive goes to a 3rd reading or whether some further rule-bending will take place to put it into law, without the protection of Amendment 138.

Here is Malcolm Harbour’s email circulated to MEPs - also signed by Angelika Niebler and Pilar del Castillo  


This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. 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)Malcolm Harbour attacks Liberals on Amendment 138 ,,13 May 2009. 










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