First Click: The future of Europe’s internet is being decided right now

October 27th, 2015

It’s 12:30pm in Strasbourg, France meaning EU voting on European net neutrality legislation will begin any minute. I’m suddenly reminded of a 2011 report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council concerning the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression on the internet:

"Unlike any other medium, the internet enables individuals to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds instantaneously and inexpensively across national borders. By vastly expanding the capacity of individuals to enjoy their right to freedom of opinion and expression, which is an "enabler" of other human rights, the internet boosts economic, social and political development, and contributes to the progress of humankind as a whole."

Germany, France, and other States have gone even farther by declaring access to the internet a basic human right. Whether you believe the internet to be on par with the right to freely express yourself is irrelevant to today’s proceedings — fact is, the internet is now the medium through which we communicate. But as Amar Toor wrote yesterday, the proposed net neutrality legislation "includes major loopholes that could undermine the very principle that it claims to protect."

Any net neutrality law that allows internet traffic to be shaped by an ISP requires data monitoring and inspection. Not by the NSA but by ISPs like KPN and TalkTalk and Orange — companies that become the gatekeepers of data, ultimately choosing who wins (deep-pocketed incumbents) and who loses (you). That doesn’t sound like the "free and open" internet we’ve been promised.

Yesterday Tim Berners Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, cautioned, "If adopted as currently written, these rules will threaten innovation, free speech and privacy, and compromise Europe’s ability to lead in the digital economy."

We’ll soon see what kind of amendments, if any, are passed when voting concludes over the next few hours, presumably in time for a scheduled press event at 10:30am ET.

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