So where exactly are the detailed proposals to censor the internet, which European Commission Vice President Franco Frattini supposedly announced in the "Counter-terrorism package" this Tuesday 6th November 2007, after a couple of years of promising to somehow "ban" internet websites which contain "bomb making instructions" ?
The Register and Statewatch and Agoravox have analyses of the Proposal amending the 2002 Decision on combating terrism: COM (2007) 650
We wrote to Franco Frattini and asked some obvious questions about this back of a fag packet soundbite plan to censor the internet, and it was evident that he and his fellow eurocrats had little or no clue as to the practicalities or the knock on effects of such a policy. See the responses to our 17 Questions and the subsequent follow up etc. in the previous blog postings in the EU plans for internet censorship category archive.
So, after a year of vague consultation (not based on any detailed specific EU Commission detailed practical proposals) with vested securocrat interests, industry lobbyists, apparatchiki, quangos and some token legal and human rights organisations, etc, but not, repeat not, an actual public consultation with the citizens of the European Union, what exactly is now being proposed ?
We are astonished that the actual proposed amendments do not specifically mention the Internet or World Wide Web sites at all !
Have we somehow missed a secret EU Commission document, or have our modest writings and correspondence with Franco Frattini's office, been amplified by other voices of reason, who have managed to neuter his daft soundbite proposals for internet censorship ?
Here is the text of what is being proposed - ignore all the pre-amble etc. - this is the bit that would be legally binding in the amended Framework Decision:
N.B. we have had to transcribe this from a wretched Adobe .pdf image scan of a printed document, which has obviously been produced originally in a standard word processor etc. before being "published" on the world wide web.
Public sector organisations which do this are
a) Wasting public money
b) Probably trying to hide something from the wider public and especially from web search engines, whilst pretending to be transparent and open with the public.
Just to make things as obscure as possible, this amendment is meaningless unless you also read the original Council Framework Decision of 13 June 2002 on combating terrorism (2002/475/JHA) (another .pdf - but at least you can copy and paste text from this one)
The Framework Decision of 13 June 2002 on combatting terrorism is amended as follows:
Article 3 is replaced by the following:
"Article 3 - Offences linked to terrorist activities
(1) For the purposes of this Framework Decision:
(a) "public provocation to commit a terrorist offence" means the distribution or otherwise making available, of a message to the public, with the intent to incite the commission of one of the acts listed in Article 1(1) (a) to (h), where such conduct, whether or not directly advocating terrorist offences, causes a danger that one or more such offences may be committed.
"training for terrorism" means to provide instruction in the making or use of explosives, firearms or other weapons or noxious or hazardous substances, or in other specific methods or techniques, for the purpose of committing one of the acts listed in Article 1(1), knowing that the skills provided are intended to be used for this purpose.
(2) Each Member State shall take the necessary measures to ensure that terrorist-linked offences include the following intentional acts:
(a) public provocation to commit a terrorist offence.
(b) recruitment for terrorism.
(c) training for terrorism.
(a) to (c) are the three vague new laws
(d) aggravated theft with a view to committing one of the acts listed in Article 1(1);
(e) extortion with a view to committing one of the acts listed in Article 1(1);
(f) drawing up false administrative documents with a view to committing the acts listed in Article 1(1)(a) to (h) and Article 2(2)(b)
The exisiting (d) to (f) have been EU Framework Decision law since 2002
John Lettice's comment in The Register article
or drawing up of false administrative documents "with a view to committing one of the [listed terrorist offences]". That allows the terror offences net to be widened to cover credit card theft/fraud and passport offences;
is probably still true, even though it has been European Union Framework Decision law already for the last 5 years.
(3) For an act to be punishable as set forth in paragraph 2, it shall not be necessary that a terrorist offence be actually committed.
Subsections 2. and 3. of Article 1 of these amendments simply put the three new types of offence (public provocation, recruitment and training) in the same territorial extent categories as the existing three types of offence in in Article 1(1) (aggravated theft, extortion and drawing up false administrative documents), or the existing two Article 2 (2) offences dealing with terrorist groups (directing a terrorist group or participating in the activities of a terrorist group) which remain unamended.
Articles 2 and Article 3 just deal with the as yet undecided timing of when the Framework Decision is formally adopted by the secretive European Union Council of Ministers and when it comes into force.
The thing that immediately strikes us, is that there is no specific mention of the Internet or even of "bomb making" in the proposed amendments to the legally binding Articles of the 2002Framework Decision.
The non-binding preamble witters on about
(3) The terrorist threat has grown and rapidly evolved in recent years, with changes in modus operandi of terrorist activists and supporters the replacement of structured an hierarchical groups by semi-autonomous cells loosely tied to each other. Such cells inter-link international networks and increasingly rely on the use of new technologies , in particular the internet.
(4) The Internet is used to inspire and mobilise local terrorist networks and individuals in Europe and also serves as a source of information on terrorist means and methods, thus functioning as a "virtual training camp". Activities of public provocation to commit terrorist offences, recruitment for terrorism and training for terrorism have multiplied at very low cost and risk.
So where are the detailed proposals to "ban" websites which provide "bomb making instructions", which is what Franco Frattini has been promising at press conferences in the last couple of years ?
Where is the Chinese Communist style Great Firewall of Europe ? Where are the website "takedown notices" (which are already available in UK law through the repressive Terrorism Act 2006 ?) and censorship of non-European Union based search engines like Google or Yahoo etc ? Where are the mechanisms of redress and financial compensation for people and businesses who suffer "collateral damage"as a result of actions against "terrorist websites" by the authorities ?
The non-binding preamble reminds us that nothing in these amendments affect the common Common Carrier status of telecomms companies and Internet Service Providers, which makes them not liable for the criminal acts of their customers.
According to the brief impact assessment:
The provisions of the Directive on electronic commerce and the Directive on data retention remain unchanged so that no new obligations are imposed on telecommunications service providers or operators. The proposal does not impose on industry the burden of setting up new mechanisms of co-operation. It simply leads to increased use of existing mechanisms under the Directive on electronic commerce and the Directive on data retention. Indirect costs resulting from this proposal are limited to the additional work-load resulting from investigations related to the new offences. Considering the number of terrorist prosecutions per year in the EU, it appears that such costs are not significant
4. BUDGETARY IMPLICATION
The proposal has no implication for the Community budget.
So all of this "counter-terrorism package" will somehow happen by magic, without any extra money being spent ?
If you believe this other section of the preamble
(14) The Union observes the principle recognised by Article 8\6(2) of the Treaty of the European Union and reflected in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, notably Chapters II and VI thereof,. Nothing in this Framework Decision may be interpreted as being intended to reduce or restrict fundamental rights or freedoms such as freedom of expression, assembly, or of association, the right to the respect for private and family life, including the right to respect of the confidentiality of correspondence.
(15) Public provocation to commit terrorist offences, recruitment for terrorism and training for terrorism are intentional crimes. Therefore, nothing in this Framework Decision may be interpreted as being intended to reduce or restrict the dissemination of information for scientific, academic or reporting purposes. The expression of radical polemic or controversial views in the public debate on sensitive political questions, including terrorism, falls outside the scope of this Framework Decision and, in particular, of the definition of public provocation to commit terrorist offences.
All well and good, but that is not written into the actual text of the amendments to the Articles of the of the 2002 Framework Decision on combatting terrorism, and so does not provide any specific extra legal safeguards or protections, it is simply a non-binding restatement of other existing European Union laws.
Iis still no clearer how any of this "ban the bomb making website" nonsense ecould be legal, even if it could be achieved technically.
No compelling case has been presented as to why "banning"or "censoring" is a superior anti-terrorism strategy than legally directed surveillance and electronic interception or even "cyber-herding".
Is this How to Make A Bomb! website safe from Franco Frattini and the overzealous UK Labour government appartachiki who will "gold plate" any suggestions for more legal repression coming from Brussels, much of which originated in Whitehall and from Labour party media spinners ?
Even the "new" idea about a vague "public provocation to commit a terrorist offence" seems to be utterly ignorant of long established internet custom and practice.
How can any such offence apply to closed user groups, website discussion forums or bulletin boards or blogs etc. which are password protected and, which are by normal Computer laws, and common sense, not public but actually private ?
Since this proposed offence is not limited to the internet, will it be used, in practice, to try to censor the easily manipulated television news reports, which gleefully parrot every fake, or alleged official statement or polemic , supposedly from the mouth of Osama bin Laden or other terrorist leaders ?
Remember the counterproductive farce of the UK Conservative government's attempt in the 1980's to "deny terrorists the oxygen of publicity, when interviews with the Sinn Fein / IRA leader Gerry Adams, who the BBC etc. had an actor speaking his words, over the original interview video footage ?