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EU Parliament Calls For Code of Conduct For Internet Intermediaries Doing Biz In Repressive Countries


With the usual time-lag, the debate about Internet censorship in repressive countries such as China and the role of Internet intermediaries such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! has now arrived in Europe. The EU Parliament now confirms what many of us have argued for months, i.e., that the problem of online censorship is not exclusively a problem of U.S.-based companies and is not only about China.

The recent resolution on freedom of expression on the Internet by the European Parliament starts with references to previous resolutions on human rights and freedom of the press, including the WSIS principles, as well as international law (Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and opens with the European-style statement that restrictions on online speech “should only exist in cases of using the Internet for illegal activities, such as incitement to hatred, violence and racism, totalitarian propaganda and children’s access to pornography or their sexual exploitation.”

Later, the resolution lists some of the speech-repressive regimes, including China, Belarus, Burma, Cuba, Iran, Libya, Maldives, Nepal, North Korea, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam. The resolution then makes explicit references to U.S.-based companies by recognizing that the “…Chinese government has successfully persuaded companies such as Yahoo, Google and Microsoft to facilitate the censorship of their services in the Chinese internet market” and “notes that other governments have required means for censorship from other companies.” European companies come into play with regard to the sale of equipment to repressive governments, stating that

“… equipment and technologies supplied by Western companies such as CISCO Systems, Telecom Italia, Wanadoo, a subsidiary of France Telecom have been used by governments for the purpose of censoring the Internet preventing freedom of expression.” (emphasis added.)

The resolution, declaratory in nature, in one of its probably most significant parts calls on the European Commission and the Council “to draw up a voluntary code of conduct that would put limits on the activities of companies in repressive countries.” The policy document also stresses the broader responsibility of companies providing Internet services such as search, chat, or publishing to ensure that users’ rights are respected. Hopefully, the Commission and the Council will recognize that several initiatives aimed at drafting such code of conducts are underway on both sides of the Atlantic (I have myself been involved in some of these processes, including this one), and will engage in conversations with the various groups involved in these processes. In any event, it will be interesting to see how the Commission and the Council approach this tricky issue, and as to what extent, for instance, they will include privacy statements in such a set of principles – a crucial aspect that, interestingly enough, has not been explicitly addressed in the Parliament’s resolution.

The resolution also calls on the Council and Commission “when considering its assistance programmes to third countries to take into account the need for unrestricted access by their citizens.” Further coverage here.

Update: On the “European Union’s schizophenric approach to freedom of expression”, read here (thanks, Ian.)


  1. stuffing envelopes

    September 22, 2014 @ 8:28 pm


    stuffing envelopes

    Law and Information » Blog Archive » EU Parliament Calls For Code of Conduct For Internet Intermediaries Doing Biz In Repressive Countries

  2. Student Style

    December 31, 2014 @ 10:41 pm


    Student Style

    Law and Information » Blog Archive » EU Parliament Calls For Code of Conduct For Internet Intermediaries Doing Biz In Repressive Countries

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