The European Union is currently discussing new potential legislation on the fight against child pornography on the internet. Many members of the Parliament (MEP’S) are not satisfied with the Commission’s proposal and they are determined to hold their ground in the current negotiations.
By Anders Maass Fallesen
Child pornography on the internet has proved to be a huge problem. More than 200 new images of children being abused by adults appear online every day and child pornography on the internet has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry according to the research company Top Ten Reviews. Their research is supported by institutions such as Interpol and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
As a result of the increase of child pornography on the internet, the Swedish Commissioner of the European Union (EU), Cecilia Malmström, initiated a draft proposal for a united EU legislation last year. Blocking websites with illegal images of children being abused was a crucial part of the proposal. It was heavily criticized though by members of the European Parliament and by organizations such as the European Digital Rights.
They believe that blocking websites is not enough since the distributors of the images can easily work around it and upload pictures at other websites.
“These internet sites have to be taken down completely. That must be our top priority. With only blocking websites, essentially the abuse on the internet carries on. It is just like if you pull a curtain down, so you cannot see what happens outside your window. It is only a symbolic solution,” says Dutch MEP, Sophia In’t Veld, who is the vice-chair of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs committee in the European Parliament. She is also a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE).
Five minutes to work around blocking
One of the main points of criticism of the proposal is that the distributors of child pornography can easily upload pictures, although their sites are blocked. It will not take more than five minutes to work your way around a blocking, says Michael Matzen the Country Manager of NetClean Denmark.
NetClean is a company working on technical solutions for protecting children on the internet. They have developed systems for companies and authorities, where sites and pictures are scanned in order to make sure that there are no images of child abuse on their computers and servers.
“Blocking websites only solves a fraction of the problem. But we think that although it is a small and modest step the European Union is taking, it is a good step. We want to stop as much distribution as possible,” says Michael Matzen.
He believes that there will be more legislation on child pornography within the next three or four years, because it draws more attention than ever from the public.
No electronic Berlin walls
The proposal of Cecilia Malmström does not only encounter resistance on fighting child pornography on the internet. Blocking websites in general will lead to further problems and politicians should not decide whether sites are illegal and unsuitable for the internet, says Danish MEP, Jens Rohde (ALDE).
He stresses that though the fight on the spreading of images with children being abused is crucial and necessary, this is the wrong way to approach it. It is not up to politicians to determine when sites are illegal, he says.
“The courts have to decide, when we have to remove sites from the internet. If we as politicians decide to block random sites on the internet, we will have a big problem. It will create problems for the trade on the internet and for the Single European Market. Perfectly legal sites have been blocked before by mistake,” says Jens Rohde.
He believes that the politicians of the European Union must wake up and realize that the internet is a strong force, where it is always easy to find different methods to upload and watch videos and images. ¨
“Many politicians in the EU have not understood how the internet works. We should forget about building electronic Berlin walls. It will never work. Instead we need better legal rights so we know when the courts have to remove sites from the internet. We have to make sure that the content of these horrible sites is deleted, not just being blocked,” Jens Rohde says.
Negotiations have already begun
After the discussion of the proposal in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, the possible EU directive was sent to Brussels, where the Council of the European Union has started negotiations with the Parliament. The Council decided in December that their position on the proposal is that the websites containing the illegal images as a rule has to be deleted. Whenever that is not possible they will not hesitate to block the websites though.
Presently the Council and the Parliament are discussing possible amendments to the directive. According to an EU official there will probably be some compromises, if they are to reach an agreement. The approach to the negotiations in the Council is that although blocking websites might not be 100 percent efficient and sufficient, it is still much better than doing nothing at all.
The hope is that the negotiations will successfully be completed before the Hungarian presidency of the European Union ends July 1st. The completed proposal will then be implemented formally approximately a year after.
It was not possible to get a comment from Commissioner Cecilia Malmström for this article.