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Appeared on: Tuesday, July 08, 2008
New European Anti-piracy Law Could Throw File-sharers Off the Web

European politicians have voted in favour of amendments to telecoms law which campaigners say could be used to curb privacy online and file-sharing.

The European Parliament voted in favour of the so-called "Telecom Packet". Although the law itself is meant to regulate the European telecommunications market, the amendments to the law target online piracy.

If a web user is caught downloading or uploading copyrighted material on bit torrent trackers or any other file-sharing networks, ISP will be forced to ban him from accessing the Internet. This would happen after three warnings send to users notifying them that they are suspected of putting copyrighted works on file-sharing networks.

The amendments also target software programs and stipulate that the government is empowered to decide which programs are lawful and which are against the law.

Privacy rights organizations do not agree and argue that the law disregards privacy rights.

The FFII (Free Internet Infrastructure) said the the parliament proposes a "Soviet internet".

Benjamin Henrion, FFII representative in Brussels, rings the alarm bell: "Tomorrow, popular software applications like Skype or even Firefox might be declared illegal in Europe if they are not certified by an administrative authority. This is compromising the whole open development of the internet as we know it today. Once the Soviet Union required the registration of all typewriters and printing devices with the authorities."

Privacy expert Ricardo Cristof Remmert-Fontes comments: "In Germany Deutsche Telekom is under fierce criticism for alleged spying on citizens and journalists. In Europe the amendments want to make spying a natural obligation for communications providers. The planned infrastructure of live-analysis and filtering can be used for mass-surveillance and censorship."

MEP Malcolm Harbour, rapporteur for users rights and the e-privacy directive who has helped oversee the Telecoms Package, challenged the rights groups view of the amendments.

"The intention of the directive is nothing like direction they are claiming," he said in a statement to BBC. "There has been a great deal of dismay in the committee at the interpretation being put on these amendments. They have nothing to do with copyright enforcement. The interpretation of them is alarmist and scare-mongering and deflects from the intention which was to improve consumers' rights," he told BBC News.

The vote on whether to approve the Telecom Packet, which is a raft of laws aimed at harmonising European telecoms regulation, takes place in September.


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