Blocking terrorist Web sites in the EU

European Commission I’m in Brussels this week, making the rounds at the EU and NATO. Yesterday, I had a meeting with Franco Frattini, the European Commissioner for Justice, Peace, and Security. Turns out he’s getting ready to introduce a series of counterterrorism proposals to the European Parliament next month. His action plan, which he plans ...

598843_Frattini15.jpg
598843_Frattini15.jpg

European Commission

I'm in Brussels this week, making the rounds at the EU and NATO. Yesterday, I had a meeting with Franco Frattini, the European Commissioner for Justice, Peace, and Security. Turns out he's getting ready to introduce a series of counterterrorism proposals to the European Parliament next month. His action plan, which he plans on officially introducing on November 6, will have three parts:

1. Tracking explosive materials: Frattini will make a series of recommendations for public institutions and private companies to work together to better track explosive materials. He also thinks that there needs to be a more specific definition of "conspiracy." 

European Commission

I’m in Brussels this week, making the rounds at the EU and NATO. Yesterday, I had a meeting with Franco Frattini, the European Commissioner for Justice, Peace, and Security. Turns out he’s getting ready to introduce a series of counterterrorism proposals to the European Parliament next month. His action plan, which he plans on officially introducing on November 6, will have three parts:

1. Tracking explosive materials: Frattini will make a series of recommendations for public institutions and private companies to work together to better track explosive materials. He also thinks that there needs to be a more specific definition of “conspiracy.” 

2. Creating a register of non-EU visitors: Frattini wants to create a Passenger Name Record (PNR), similar to the one that the United States has, with information about non-EU citizens on flights in and out of the EU. 

3. Blocking certain Web sites: Frattini thinks Internet providers should shut down sites that provide information about making bombs or otherwise incite violence.

Get my take after the jump.  

There’s not likely to be a lot of controversy over the first proposal, but the PNR proposal is a bit trickier. The EU and the US signed their first PNR agreement back in 2004 whereby airline carriers provide passenger data to the US government. From a logistical point of view, it would be easy enough for airlines to implement the same practices for the EU. But it’s not a given that such proposed legislation would pass muster in the European Parliament. After all, privacy advocates have been very concerned about the potential misuse of that information by the US.

It’s the proposed blocking of Web sites that’s a real puzzler. When word of his plan first leaked out a few weeks ago, civil liberties groups fretted that the end result would be a censoring of the Internet. But Frattini isn’t taking a page out of the Chinese government’s book; he told me explicitly that “this has nothing to do with freedom of expression. If someone wants to put up a website saying ‘I’m against Israel,’ then they have a right to do so. But if they post specific instructions on how to build a bomb, that’s unacceptable.”

Still, the ramifications are puzzling. I asked what would happen if an academic or a journalist was doing research and wanted to investigate what terrorist Web sites were saying. He said his proposals meant that Internet service providers would be responsible for shutting down sites that incited violence if the government compelled them to do so. If they didn’t, then they would be held responsible.

It seems to me, though, that this proposed legislation has very little chance of passing. You just can’t control the Internet that way. Frattini himself told me, “I’m fully aware that once you shut down one Web site, another one pops up seconds later somewhere else. But the alternative is not inaction.” But maybe it should be, at least when it comes to this Internet legislation. Take a look at Burma this week. Government efforts to shut down the Internet has not stopped news from getting out. It seems to me that when it comes to the Internet, you control it or you don’t. Half-measures just won’t cut it.

Christine Y. Chen is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

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