internet-regulationLast month, we asked you what you thought Europe’s digital future might look like. We spoke with Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding about her proposed new data protection legislation, and got some reactions from MEPs and some of the companies affected (such as Facebook). The question of “internet regulation” is certainly a pressing one right now, with debates about new laws currently taking place in the US (e.g. SOPA and PIPA), the EU (e.g. the proposed data protection rules) and internationally (e.g. ACTA).

Catalin-Alexandru left a comment arguing that Europe’s digital future looked “very grim because ACTA was signed with no debate [whatsoever].” ACTA (the “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement”) is an attempt to create an international legal framework to regulate intellectual property rights, including patents, anti-counterfeiting and online copyright infringement. We spoke to Ante Wessels,  analyst for the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) and asked him what he thought of ACTA:

One of the really interesting things is that the US will not ratify ACTA, while they are asking Europe to ratify it. So, Europe will be bound by ACTA while the United States is not. And that’s a very dangerous precedent. How many more agreements like this will there be? Even if it were an agreement that didn’t have any impact, you should not accept that principle. But ACTA does go beyond [EU law] – and there are things that will limit our competitiveness compared to the US.

ACTA would award damages above the [economic loss suffered by the right holder and would have] a chilling effect on competition. It will make the EU less flexible to solve problems. With patents and copyright, they’re quite intrusive right now. The scope is getting bigger and bigger, the accepted limitations are quite narrow.

There are so many more issues at stake [than just internet piracy]. When you limit competition, you can really hamper innovation. What’s more important: the entertainment industry or green innovation? If, with climate change, the worst-case scenario turns out to be true, then green innovation and diffusion of technology  is a thousand times more important.

The negotiations around ACTA are ongoing and, despite being signed by several countries (almost entirely countries in the developed world), it has yet to be ratified and brought into law by anyone.

We also had comments sent in from Petrescu and Christos, both of whom expressed concern about the use of internet regulation to control freedom of speech. This has been one of the primary concerns with much of the proposed anti-piracy legislation (including SOPA, PIPA and ACTA) – but it’s also an issue that has come up in relation to the EU’s proposed data protection rules. At the Forum Europe event we covered last year, we heard from a BBC representative who questioned whether the “right to be forgotten” (i.e. the proposed new EU rule that would allow users to request online services remove their public data) was in conflict with everybody else’s “right to remember”. We spoke to Microsoft’s Chief Operating Officer for EU Affairs, Ron Zink, and asked him for a comment:

Of course, data protection and intellectual property rights are just one aspect of “internet regulation”. There is also a security dimension to cyberspace, which is rapidly growing in importance. In cyberspace, the line between criminal hackers and government intelligence agencies can sometimes appear blurred; see, for example, the Stuxnet worm that targeted computers related to the Iranian nuclear programme in 2011. A recent Security and Defence Agenda (SDA) report suggests that EU countries are generally quite well-equipped to defend themselves against cyber-attacks, but do we need better rules to determine what happens if a state is behind a cyber-attack on another state? We recently spoke to NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General Jamie Shea and asked him what he thought:

Which raises a question that goes right to the heart of the debate on internet regulation: should countries approach the problem separately and adopt rules unilaterally (even if they affect users globally), or should states work together – perhaps within the framework of the United Nations – to come up with a joint solution? Again, we put this question to Jamie Shea:

Finally, perhaps we need to take a step back from this debate and see it from a different angle. Rather than asking “should we regulate the internet”, perhaps a better question might be “CAN we regulate the internet”? Even if ACTA, SOPA, PIPA and the rest of the alphabet-soup of rules and laws are passed, will technology just race ahead and leave them all outdated? Even China, who has invested more in internet surveillance technology than perhaps any state, is unable to exert complete control over its cyberspace.

What do YOU think? Should the EU regulate the internet? Should “cyber-governance” be handled internationally at the level of the United Nations? Or should there be no attempts to regulate the internet at all, as it risks infringing upon freedom of speech and expression? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

Image credits: CC / Flickr – Andy Martini
IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – morburg

18 comments Post a commentComment


  1. Plamen Dimitrov

    No. Any attempts at regulating the internet, no matter how well intentioned, will end up creating tools for oppression. The internet is a marketplace of ideas, so normal market regulations don’t translate as well as those applied on the commidity/stock/labour markets.

  2. Dovydas Ulkštinas

    Of course NO! It’s absolutely ridicilous that those all companies don’t get enough money of their production. It’s not true! Look how much Hollywood and other CO earn money! That would only make CO more richer than they are now!

  3. Leonardo Baggiani

    Excuse me… what happened to Creative Commons Public Licences? Does the EU hate so much solutions from “below”?

  4. Avatar of Debating Europe
    Debating Europe

    Leonardo, this is true! We’ve amended it now – and will include credits in future posts.

  5. Tom Muyldermans

    Are you even serious??? Hell NO!! That ‘s nothing but a lame excuse to control people ‘s personal freedom of expression, no matter how vague you define it.

  6. Nikolai Holmov

    An absolute and definite NO the EU should not even attempt to regulate the Internet.

    To take one specific example of “the right to be forgotten”, how will that work? If I upload a text or photograph identifying myself and then tens of thousands of links, pingbacks, quotes, citations etc are made from whichever host or website it is on, how can the EU insure my “my right to be forgotten”? Maybe Facebook or VKontake can be made to “forget” what I published if that was the original location, but what about the hundreds or thousands of copies, snippets, quotes and citations on other domains, web pages, blogs etc. that have reposted what I put in the public domain without my knowledge or the knowledge of the original host?

    The “right to be forgotten” is a complete nonsense when things can go “viral” in a moment. Once it is out there it is out there and in the very best scenario I could possibly make the EU enforce others to forget me on a one by one basis as I come across things I want forgotten….but life is too short!

    At some point I must take personal responsibility about what I write, where I write it and to whom I give my details and why.

    Now I have every right to expect those details to be confidential if it is a one to one exchange and not to have them sold on, broadcast or disseminated. I should have the right to have those details reviewed at my discretion and even deleted if I wish (unless statutorily barred from doing so ie. Criminal Records) but it is absolute folly to expect something I put into the public global cyber community to be forgotten and even more incredulous to think that Facebook, Vkontakte or my blog is the responsible for tracking down every copy/paste, quote, citation and having those erased globally.

    I am all in favour of specific laws to ban child pornography and similar thoroughly illegal activities being spread over the Internet but those national laws already exist.

    I can understand the concerns of those who control markets through copy right, but copy right has become a joke. No longer is it copy right for “x years”, it has progressed to the originators lifetime and then further to lifetime +.

    Add to this that any Internet legislation will be out of date before it hits the legislative books due to the ingenuity of those in the cyberspace far exceeding the minds of the legislators and the laws will be circumvented and pointless before they even come into effect.

    If I buy a CD or DVD legitimately and then lend it to a friend for free, and they lend it on or return it an I lend it to others, the copy write is not breached and yet dozens of people will have see or heard what has been paid for once.

    How is this theoretically different from me paying to download and then sharing the file with friends? The method of sharing only? The reduced numbers of people I can lend it to? The first principle remains the same when all is said and done. Many people I like will get access to that medium whilst not paying for it because it is mine, bought and paid for, to lend to others or not as I desire depriving artist, marketing company, management and tax to the open palms of those in the mix.

    What will happen if extensions and add-ons necessarily come to these proposals that would have made the Arab Uprisings impossible due to censorship?

    Once these regulations become law history dictates that policy makers will forever tinker and add-on clauses to suit as yet unforeseen (or foreseen) matters which simply are not in their interest rather than the interest of the population.

    The Internet is a global “Speakers Corner” where anybody can stand on their soapbox and preach or alternatively can choose to be preached at. It is a place where I can share my CDs and DVDs with friends without having to physically take them to them. ACTA, SOPA, PIPA are all ARSE if they are designed to prevent me sharing what I legally own with others I know. I may know an awful lot of people in many nations. In fact I do.

    Completely ill-concived, completely impossible to police as the Internet and websites are far faster than law enforcement kicking in doors and seizing hosting systems, it will always be playing catch up with the Internet community and outdated and therefore is far better left well alone.

    If Ms Reding wants to keep her job, which one assumes very much depends on the good will of the voters in her nation, then she would do well to engage in debate with them rather than just NGOs/civil society, academics, interest groups and business.

  7. Christos Mouzeviris

    Well as I said before, I as a blogger, I can only give one answer…!!! No..!! And while I understand the arguments that support this idea, about property rights..The artists that want to protect their work, the people that want to be forgotten..the people that want privacy..The people that want to be found..

    Th reality is that once we set those new rules up, inevitably there will be many loopholes that we haven’t explored..then there will be always people that will find a way around them,or ways to break the rules…Then we will have to apply new laws, to regulate the regulations..then more regulations to regulate the regulations of the regulations…

    so can eventually find ourselves having a total censorship on what it goes on line? can those laws and regulations be the first step of internet censorship? starting from the obvious and righteous and then moving further?

  8. Peter Schellinck

    The Net was created and evolved as a totally different kind of network and should be a ‘free’ space. For once mankind has a media emerged spontaneously from within the society and accessible (should be) to all layers thereof, wherever. This experiment should be allowed to develop naturally and organically.

    Let’s not forget that almost all content regulation is based on national laws and conventions. The Net is a worldwide phenomenon, so it is argued that, even if one wanted to do so, any regulation of the Net content could not be effective.

    The speed of information upload and exchange is so diverse and dynamic that any form of regulation is flawed and imperfect. Hence, the Net cannot – and should not – be regulated like ‘old’ media.

    However, more can and should be done, especially in relation to harmful content. This should be dealt with through social responsibility awareness encouraging and creating a legal framework for society to conform in the use of the Net. Today, a young child can access the Net at any time of the day or night or other improper criminal intentions might be introduced. In these circumstances, we must have some procedures for tackling illegal content on the Net and some mechanisms for allowing end user control of what is accessed on the Net.

    Governments have already sufficient legal instruments at their disposal to address abuse. On Cyberspace they should have no sovereignty. As governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed they have neither solicited nor received it from the Net society. Cyberspace does not have borders. It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions. This media truly belongs to the people, globally.

    As Elihu Root, the 1912 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, said “Thousands of years of differing usages under different conditions forming different customs and special traditions have given to each separate race its own body of preconceived ideas, it own ways of looking at life and human conduct, its own views of what is natural and proper and desirable”. The Net, the ultimate public network, will need to adapt to this tapestry of values. And that’s a good thing.

  9. Evan Georgouleas

    The sheer fact that a government is thinking to police the internet, the place where youths,grown ups,singers,politicians, etc have the ability to be anonymous and yet equally share opinions, information and whatnot is by itself an act against free speech. Governments claim that piracy is wrong illegal and that this one of the reasons it happens… I beg to disagree, this is a front the truth behind it is that it will become legal to trace private information about internet users in the pretence that it is for “stopping piracy”…which follows up to a new refrence ..THERE IS NO SUCH THING as piracy use you dictionaries and understand the meaning of piracy which entails forcefull (and usually violent) extraction of whatever it is you are taking… filesharing on the internet is one person sharing a file on the internet with another and would usually require at least one having purchased the select item being shared. This law is the exact example where capitalism finally starts impeding on our personal lives and trying to take control for what other purpose than to increase income rates.

  10. Rui Duarte

    NO! The United Nations are the meeting ground of a bunch of cleptocratic dictators! Democracies are a MINORITY in the United nations. Therefore, the United nations an not REGULATE anything watsoever. The nited Nations is usefull to speak, to maintain an open channel between civilizations.. ok.. but never to REGULATE anything. An organization dominated by dictatorships can not be allowed to REGULATE.

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