Urgent: Please write to your MEP €“ Now!

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There is a very important EU vote taking place on July 7th on some amendments to telecommunications legislation that threaten to sneak in a number of catastrophic measures:

European Internet users could be blocked from lawful activities by mandatory spyware, in the interests of their security. The right to use free software for internet access would therefore not be assured anymore. The neutrality of the Internet is also directly attacked, as is the principle that technical intermediaries have no obligation to prior surveillance of contents. Other amendments will de facto enable administrative authorities to obligate ISPs to work with content producers and rights-holders' private police, including the sending of intimidating messages, with no judicial or regulatory oversight.

These measure goes further than the French "graduated response" project, which has been subject to widespread opposition, including by the European Parliament on April 10th. That is undoubtedly why those amendments have turned up on early july, and why those drafting them use subtle rhetoric and crossed-references to make the overall text harder to understand (more than 800 amendements on 5 directives were tabled).

This is really serious: I urge you if you possibly can to write to your MEP. You can do it using the fab WriteToThem service, which makes it as easy as can be. Make sure it gets to them before July 7th (yes, it's tight – that's how sneaky they've been).

If you're interested, this is what I have just sent:

I am writing to express my deep concern about some of the proposed amendments to the Telecom Package.

These amendments – for example H1, H2, H3, K1 and K2 – would change the nature of the Internet fundamentally, weaken European privacy in serious ways, and vest judicial power in private interests – specifically, media companies – that would give them preferential treatment above other industries.

The Internet's power derives from its openness – the fact that anyone can try out new ideas and new services without needing to ask permission. This has allowed a kind of Darwinian selection to take place, resulting in a flowering of vigorous products and services with huge benefits for people in Europe and elsewhere. Introducing the concept of “lawful applications” and “lawful services” is utterly antithetical to this spirit. It would turn the Internet into a sclerotic and unwieldy system based on permissions that would do Soviet planning proud.

Moreover, the very idea of a “lawful application” would probably rule out the online use of free software – a domain where Europe leads the world, and which has the potential to save governments, companies and end-users considerable sums of money. Introducing legislation that would stunt the growth of free software just at the moment when its full potential is becoming clear, would be a tragic error.

Just as serious is the threat to privacy that these amendments represent. They are intrusive and violate larger principles of privacy. It is not possible to monitor Internet activity for particular types of content: it is either monitored, or it is not. In the former case, huge databases containing extremely sensitive information about individuals – their health, private life, sexual preferences etc. - would be built up. Inevitably, that data would leak out – no database is secure, as recent events in the UK remind us – with huge and irreparable damage to the individuals concerned.

Finally, and in many ways most extraordinarily, these amendments effectively give special legal powers to a particular class of private entities, allowing courts and police to be by-passed. This is wrong not only on a practical level – there are countless cases where mistakes have been made in alleging copyright infringement, for example – but also as a matter of principle.

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