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European union16 July 2008

Members of European Parliament urged to support Global Online Freedom Act’s European version

Reporters Without Borders is backing a proposed directive which Dutch MEP Jules Maaten will submit to the European Parliament on 17 July and which would prevent Europe’s Internet companies from being forced to cooperate with repressive regimes in censoring and monitoring the Internet. Inspired by America’s proposed Global Online Freedom Act (GOFA), it would allow these companies to adopt a series of joint measures to resist such governments.

“We support this proposal and urge all Members of the European Parliament to support it too,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Online freedom is not just threatened by Yahoo!’s cooperation with the Chinese authorities. Some European companies are also the accomplices of online censors.”

Telecom Italia, for example, owns part of the Cuban telecommunications company ETECSA, the only ISP available in Cuba. The French ISP Orange is involved in China, Vietnam and Egypt, which are all on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Internet Enemies.” The German company KCC Europe supplies North Korea with Internet access under an exclusive partnership signed in 2004.

Proposed by Maaten, a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, the directive urges European companies to assume their “responsibility to uphold the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” and requires them, inter alia, to locate their servers outside repressive countries.

“Internet companies say they have to comply with the laws in the countries with which they have agreements because their servers are located inside these countries,” Reporters Without Borders said. “But these laws very often violate international treaties that guarantee free expression. The European GOFA offers an alternative to such constraints, which are often a way for repressive government to obtain private data about these companies’ clients and have them arrested.”

The GOFA, which was proposed by Republican representative Christopher Smith and enjoys bipartisan support, has been approved by the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee and, as the energy and commerce committee waived its right to examine the bill, it now only awaits approval by the full house.

The GOFA was inspired in part by the example of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which the US Congress adopted in 1977 with the aim stopping US companies from bribing corrupt officials in other countries and which had even greater impact after the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development adopted a similar anti-bribery convention in 1988.

This European version of the GOFA aims to forestall online censorship possibilities and to regulate the potentially repressive activities of European Internet companies. It would open the way for the creation of an Office of Global Internet Freedom with the job of combatting online censorship by the most repressive governments and protecting the personal data of Internet users.

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